Deanna Durbin Collection I [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (17th January 2021).
The Film

First spotted in the 1936 MGM short film Every Sunday alongside Judy Garland, singer Deanna Durbin was signed to a contract by Universal and made her feature debut at age fourteen in Three Smart Girls, single-handedly saving the studio from bankruptcy and becoming the most highly-paid female star at the time by age twenty-one. The typecasting of her as a naïve-yet-determined Miss Fixit during the first half of her twelve-year career would overshadow her subsequent attempts at more adult leading roles and she would walk away from the screen at age twenty-seven, preferring to "the life of a nobody" in France with her third husband, resisting offers from other studios and most interviews until her death in 2013. The three films in Kino Lorber's Deanna Durbin Collection I include her second feature and first true lead role One Hundred Men and a Girl, the sequel to Three Smart Girls Three Smart Girls Grow Up in which she reprises her earlier role but takes center stage, and her then most mature and self-assured lead role in It Started With Eve.

Oscar (Best Music, Score): Charles Previn, head of department (winner), Best Picture (nominee), Best Writing, Original Story: Hanns Kräly (nominee), Best Sound, Recording: Homer G. Tasker (nominee), and Best Film Editing: Bernard W. Burton (nominee) - Academy Awards, 1938

One Hundred Men and a Girl: Unemployed musician John Cardwell (Paths of Glory's Adolphe Menjou) has been sneaking into the theater nightly trying to get an audience with famed conductor Leopold Stokowski, but is repeatedly thrown out on his ear by the stage doorman (Some Like It Hot's Jack Smart). When a wealthy audience drops her purse on the street, Cardwell takes it home with him to pay the overdue rent, leading his landlady (Saboteur's Alma Kruger) and his fellow boarding musicians to believe that he has indeed been hired by Stokowski, and the deception is compounded by the boundless enthusiasm of his daughter Patricia (Durbin) who has her hopes shattered when she sneaks into a rehearsal and learns the truth. Intent on returning the purse to its owner, Patricia winds up the life of a society party. Humored by the indulgent guests, Patricia takes flighty socialite Mrs. Frost (My Man Godfrey's Alice Brady) at her word that she will sponsor a symphony made up of her father and all of his out-of-work friends and Frost's radio station owner husband John R. Frost (The Adventures of Robin Hood's Eugene Pallette) will feature them on his evening show. Patricia gets her father and his colleagues excited enough to rent a rehearsal space only to learn that Mrs. Frost has left for Europe, and her husband refuses to honor his wife's promise. Although the adults in the room hear the practicalities of Frost's reasons for refusal, Patricia takes to heart Frost's offhand remark that they would need to establish themselves to the public with a hook like a famous conductor and then she sets about trying to convince Stokowski to conduct them. Attempting to sneak into Stokowski's rehearsals under the nose of the doorman and Stokowski's agent (It Happened One Night's Jameson Thomas), Patricia is repeatedly turned down by the busy conductor and makes a last ditch attempt by attempting to sneak herself, her father, and ninety-nine musicians into Stokowski's home for a very unorthodox audition.

Durbin's sophomore feature film effort gives us more of the cloying character type established in Three Smart Girls, a precursor to the screwball dame who unknowingly sets complications and exasperations in motion for others while in pursuit of her own selfless goal. Although verging on irritating with the screenplay's determination to make Patricia seem more naïve than stubborn and obstinate, the burden of the contrive situations' comic relief is thankfull handled by several Universal contract character actors with business like pranks pulled among Frost's well-heeled business colleagues that at first cause him to indulge the girl's ostentatious proposition or the argument among them that turns from possible litigation to a dash for "two million dollars in free publicity." The film's finale in which Patricia's orchestra perform for Stokowski on the staircase of his own home is a spectacular bit of interplay between Stokowki's twitchy conductor's hands, Durbin's beaming smile, and a combination of camerawork and editing that give the music a sense of directionality that makes it all the more regrettable that stereo exhibition was in its infancy.

Three Smart Girls Grow Up: It looked like life would be smooth sailing when the parents reunited at the end of Three Smart Girls, but Penny Craig (Durbin) soon discovers that love is a many-splintered thing during her coming-out party when she seems to be the only person in the room who has noticed that middle sister Kay (Too Many Blondes's Helen Parrish) is in love with Boston blue blood Richard Watkins (Inferno's William Lundigan) who just happens to be the fiancé of eldest, blondest sister Joan (The House of the Seven Gables' Nan Grey).

Mother (Sabrina's Nella Walker) is too preoccupied with the wedding while father (Show Boat's Charles Winninger) is a hopeless workaholic; however, when faithful butler Binns (The Lady Fights Back's Ernest Cossart) assures her that some other tall, dark, and handsome man will come along to capture Kay's fancy, Penny brings dashing music school colleague Harry Loren (Dial M for Murder's Robert Cummings) home with her for dinner. When Harry is repeatedly drawn to Joan, however, a frustrated Penny berates him, leading her mother and sisters to believe she is in love with Harry herself and attempt to put a stop to the relationship. When Binns ties to comfort Penny by suggesting her plan did not work because he had forgotten that the irresistible attraction blondes and brunettes have for one another, Penny then schemes to set up Joan with Harry and Kay with Richard, throwing the upcoming nuptials into a frenzy when she discovers that the attractions are indeed mutual however much each tries to deny it.

Durbin's fifth feature film shows the young actress refining her talents, better able to guide the audience through the familiar scenario of complications and miscommunications with her relentless selflessness compelling because here more so than One Hundred Men and a Girl there is the likelihood that the lessons she learns about the adult world may be devastating, from the hurt she feels watching her sisters and their suitors casting sidelong glances at the others' partners and her enduring her sisters' reproachful accusations of selfishness and maliciousness towards them to her coldness in response to being slapped by a mortified Kay (and Kay's hurt at being emotionally shut out by her little "mouse"), and her emerging belief that business will always pull her father away when she needs him the most. The finale is another variation on the aforementioned previous film, with Durbin singing and beaming as things are finally set right.

Oscar (Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture): Charles Previn and Hans J. Salter (nominee) - Academy Awards, 1943

It Started With Eve: Newspaper editors are holding up the press and business colleagues are holding their breath waiting for robber baron Jonathan Reynolds (Witness for the Prosecution's Charles Laughton) to die – there are even a pair of men from the Metropolitan Museum waiting in the entrance hall to cast his death mask – and the old man seems to be holding on for his son Jonathan Jr. (Cummings) who is rushing home from a fishing trip in Mexico. When the old man expresses his wish to meet his son's fiancée before he dies, Jonathan Jr. rushes to the hotel but Gloria (Girls' School's Margaret Tallichet) and her mother Mrs. Pennington (Nothing But the Truth's Catherine Doucet) are not responding to pages and are not in their suite, he in desperation offers coat check girl Anne Terry (Durbin) fifty dollars to pose as his fiancée. Anne agrees to this since she has finally decided to quit the big city after too many unsuccessful singing auditions and needs money for fare to return home to Shelbyville, Ohio. Anne's smiling face, however, has an unexpected effect, and Jonathan Sr. is up and about the next morning, craving steak and cigars to the consternation of his doctor (The Front Page's Walter Catlett) and nurse (The Wizard of Oz's Clara Blandick). Worse yet, he wants to spend more time with Anne, while Jonathan Jr. tries to figure out how to put his real fiancée off visiting and tell his father the truth without the shock killing him. Anne is okay with following Jonathan Jr.'s lead; that is, until she discovers that one of Jonathan Sr.'s closest friends is conductor Leopold Stokowski who he promises to introduce her to when he plans a big engagement party. Gloria and her mother are understanding at first, but Jonathan Jr. discovers that it is harder than he anticipated getting rid of Anne, especially when he starts to fall in love with her while Anne becomes more worried about devastating her would-be father-in-law with the truth.

The best film in the set, It Started With Eve has a trio of leads on equal footing performance-wise. Durbin is no longer the naïf, mercenary about her career goals when she sees one final shot but feeling pangs of guilt, Laughton conveying both mischief and pathos with twinkling eyes, and Cummings energizing scenes of verbal and physical sparring with Durbin while a handful of supporting character actors pull the bewildered and exasperated expressions when appropriate. It is also perhaps to Durbin's benefit that the script is less dependent on her musical numbers despite her character's career aspirations, saving the film's best musical moment for the final third of the film in a sequence in which her rapidly-sung rendition of "Clavelitos" in defiance to Cummings gets its flirtatious edge for Laughton's eyes darting between each of his scene partners to the pounding notes of the piano. Also worth of note is some handsome art direction of Reynolds' Xanadu-esque mansion by Jack Otterson (Arabian Nights), the photography of German émigré Rudolph Maté (Vampyr), and the editing of Bernard W. Burton (The Invisible Ray). The screenplay of Norman Krasna (White Christmas) and Leo Townsend (Dangerous Crossing) was adapted a decade later as an episode of Lux Video Theatre starring Joan Weldon and David Janssen.

Video

Reissued in 1950 by Realart and on VHS in 1995 from MCA (and a 1997 Japanese laserdisc), One Hundred Men and a Girl was released on DVD in Japan and the UK in 2003 by Simply Media in the Deanna Durbin Box Set 1 (or the later nineteen-disc Deanna Durbin: The Ultimate Collection), bypassing Universal's 2004 domestic six-film Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack and finally being consigned to their DVD-R Vault Series line in 2015. Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer suggests nothing was wrong with the picture elements to make the studio pass up an earlier DVD release, sporting only faint damage and possessing some nice detail in close-ups and shots composed in depth while some of the long shots seem a shade softer (for instance some of the coverage of the bookending orchestral performances).

Three Smart Girls Grow Up was released on DVD first in the UK on the Deanna Durbin Box Set 2 (as well as the aforementioned nineteen-film set) and domestically in TCM's four-film Deanna Durbin: The Music and Romance Collection. Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer looks better than the former film with only surface damage evident during the credits and transitions, looking superior to Universal's older transfers of catalogue titles (one might have assumed at first that this was an older DVD-ready master due to the windowboxed credits, but Universal also did the same with their 4K-restoration of The Man Who Laughs but Kino Lorber offers no information about the transfer).

Issued in the aforementioned Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack and later solo as a Universal Vault Series DVD-R – and in the U.K. in the Deanna Durbin Box Set 3 and the aforementioned nineteen-disc setIt Started With Eve's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer is the best disc in the set, almost spotless in terms of archival damage, looking very much the part of a Universal A-picture.

Audio

It is possible that audio elements may have been the reason Universal skipped One Hundred Men and a Girl in the Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack for which it seemed ideally-suited (even though it was released on DVD in other territories). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track's dialogue is always intelligible, but the orchestral performance during the credits is not as clear and punchy as one would hope (thankfully, the climactic performance sounds better) and faint hiss is apparent during silent passages (it is just as well that Durbin's heroine is a motormouth).

It is a toss-up as to whether the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track of Three Smart Girls Grow Up or It Started With Eve is better, both sounding fine in terms of dialogue and the high notes of music and Durbin's vocals with no distracting hiss during the more tense silences. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided for all three films.

Extras

One Hundred Men and a Girl is accompanied by an audio commentary by film historian Stephen Vogg who discusses the partnership between producer Joe Pasternak (In the Good Old Summertime) and director Henry Koster (Harvey) that shaped Durbin's early career and the recurring themes of the films that the three did together, particularly the relationship between Durbin's heroines and their fathers or father figures. It Started With Eve's audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan rehashes some of this but in the context of Durbin feeling constrained in her roles later on in her career, pointing out here that the film's romantic relationship may be between Anne and Jonathan Jr. but the film's focal point relationship is between Anne and Jonathan Sr. (who she serenades affectionately in contrast to the song she directs at Jonathan Jr).

Three Smart Girls Grow Up and It Started With Eve include their respective trailers (2:02 and 2:50, respectively) while the former and One Hundred Men and a Girl include trailers for other films.

Packaging

The three discs come in separate keep cases (no individual UPC codes on the disc covers themselves so they may not be offered separately at some point) and are housed in a thin cardboard slipcase.

Overall

Kino Lorber has not announced any subsequent Deanna Durbin box sets, but the current volume provides a good overview of her Universal heyday.

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it, amazon.es and amazon.se.