The two major problems with this film can be seen in the screenshot above and below. The first is that Deanna Durbin was attacked by peroxide and thus is a bottle blonde throughout the film. The second is that particular outfit.
It’s horrendous and tacky. Thankfully, those are really the only two problems with this film.
It begins with Deanna riding the train as it comes to a stop. She is reading “The Case Of The Headless Bride” when outside her window she witnesses a man being beaten to death with a crowbar. What follows is what happens when Deanna Durbin gets bitten by the Nancy Drew bug. It’s also what happens when filmmakers make something that pokes fun at the cinema of the 1940s and lets Deanna run with it.
She reports the murder but no one takes her seriously so she starts to investigate on her own. Then she has a great scene which was obviously meant to poke fun at Citizen Kane. After Deanna arrives at her stop and reports the murder to a clueless cop, she seeks help from the author of the murder mystery she was reading. She follows him to a theater where a newsreel starts and we meet the dead man looking very Kane-like.
Deanna then proceeds to the dead man’s home where the opening shot is outside the fence looking towards a house, far in the distance.
Then instead of moving closer and closer to the house, we join Deanna on a fence facing down a prop deer that probably went on to a career in Douglas Sirk movies.
Deanna is a hoot throughout the film but especially inside the house when she has one of her finest scenes while playing a chair.
After that, the exact details of the plot aren’t important. She gets the author, exposes the murderer, and manages to work in a few vocal numbers without ruining the film and her fine comedic performance. In fact, the first number initially seems ridiculous until it stops. Deanna is singing a lovely number over the phone to her family not realizing that there is a bad guy in the room. After she finishes, he has a couple of tears on his face, begins to leave, and then realizes what an idiot he is being. He turns around, gets what he came for, goes out into the hall, and beats Durbin’s mystery writer unconsciousness. We go into the number thinking it is sentimental slop and that it’s going to ruin everything. Instead, it’s all a setup for a funny sequence that plays for laughs, without sentiment.
The film makes many references to film noir both in it’s plot and appearance. Durbin’s performance is almost self-referential without ever breaking the fourth wall. She even channels a bit of Stanwyck’s Lady Eve in that she’ll charm you right over a cliff with her body and personality.
Edward Everett Horton and David Bruce deliver superb supporting performances as her caretaker and murder mystery author, respectively. The film is the Durbin picture I have been waiting for since I saw Three Smart Girls (1936). It allows Durbin’s natural comedic talent to reign supreme without feeling it’s necessary to graft songs onto the film at any cost. Deanna is like Ginger Rogers. Ginger was an amazing dancer, but she doesn’t need to dance to deliver a quality performance. The same is true of Deanna, she is an amazing singer, but she doesn’t need to sing. But rather than giving us a sans singing Deanna, they actually make the singing work for the movie. It’s there for a reason. Even when that reason is to poke fun at the exogenous numbers that populated musicals of the period. I loved it and I recommend it!