I have to be honest. I tried to write a regular review for this film, but I disliked the movie so much that I don’t care. On some level, I felt personally offended. Rather than try to write some long justification, I am just going to say I don’t recommend it and move on. I recommend Pinocchio, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Battlestar Galactica. They explore the themes in this film far better, with a greater maturity and depth that won’t leave you feeling like you have been lectured to like a child.
If I didn’t know this was a Samuel Fuller film going into it, I don’t believe I would have recognized his hand at work. The film is about two people who live their lives on the frontier. Each has a position of power and holds it through force. Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) has her kingdom that she controls with her small army of armed men and her influence deeply entrenched throughout the region. Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan) is a Marshall. Along with his brothers, he tracks down criminals. Both sound cool on the surface, but in fact they are miserable. What’s worse is that their lifestyle is poisoning a younger generation. It’s the struggle over the younger generation that is the source of conflict. When Bonnell arrives in her town to make an arrest, the two are pulled to each other as the worlds they hold in their hands crumble with collateral damage.
Everyone does a good job. It’s shot in beautiful black and white with stylish cinematography. On a repeat viewing, I probably would recommend this film. For now, I say it’s worth a look.
See that guy in the middle getting slapped by Deanna Durbin. That’s how I felt watching this film. I foolishly believed that Lady On A Train (1945) meant that the final film in this series would be enjoyable too. Instead, I was coldly smacked in the face with something as bad as the worst of her films that I have seen.
The movie begins with DJ Mary Collins (Deanna Durbin) finishing her set with the first of many musical numbers (I should have known that this spelled disaster for the film). After leaving the booth, she is approached by Donald Read (John Dall) who tells her that he doesn’t really care what her relationship was with his grandfather, but that it needs to end. Mary has no idea what he is talking about, so of course, Mary reacts with indignation at such an accusation and storms out. Mary goes home and has a heart to heart with her aunt who also happens to be named Mary Collins. Turns out it was the aunt that had the relationship with Donald Read’s grandfather. That relationship included the financial support that Donald Read alluded to.
Cut to the Read family and being rich and thinking themselves above others. They decide to resort to kidnapping. Of course, this task is given to the younger of the Read brothers named Charlie (Donald O’Connor). They know where she is going to be and wait for her to leave, where upon they gag her and stuff her into a car.
Taken to the Read home, she is confronted by the family who proceed to insult her for trying to milk off of them. They want her to sign away any financial ties that she has with the family. The mother makes the mistake of dropping a little information: Donald Read is to be married and any hint of scandal could ruin it. So Durbin being Durbin, she creates a fictitious baby to rub it in and drive up the cost of her silence. She puts the price at a million dollars. They talk and get nowhere when Charlie kindly suggests the two of them go to the library together.
He tells her in an song (why?!?) that he knows that she is full of hot air. Then he tells her that he wants her to continue doing it. He has a thing for his older brother’s fiancee and would love for her to drive a wedge between them so he can have her for himself. What follows is what you expect. Durbin gets closer and closer to Donald as she tries to drive a wedge between him and his fiancee. Since Durbin would be robbing the cradle with O’Connor, she saves him from his infatuation with the gold digging fiancee and he plays the helpful child role. Oh, and there are plenty of songs to make the boring film, annoying.
Since I only wanted to see Durbin gagged repeatedly throughout the film instead of wanting to bash my head in with a brick, I say approach with caution.
Final words on Deanna Durbin: She could sing, but was best, when she was simply allowed to act.
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!
Since Deanna Durbin isn’t dead yet, I know she can’t spin in her grave. However, I am sure that after she passes away, she will spin every time someone watches this phenomenally awful film. She chases a man during the Gold Rush, sings along the way, falls for another man, and into some mud. I won’t dignify the film with further summary.
Deanna Durbin is a good singer and more importantly, a fine comedic actress. This movie surrounds her with second rate actors and a piss poor script. The only thing memorable is the scene pictured above of her shoving a man’s head into a river with her foot. There is one sequence that seems to foreshadow The Sound Of Music (1965) with Deanna in the hills singing. In reality, it only serves to remind us of why that movie was so wonderful. Before musicals like that one, they had no idea what they were doing as evidenced by this cow dung captured on celluloid.
This was the first Deanna Durbin film that I can say was truly a punishment to watch. Do I have to say that I don’t recommend it? Remember, she may not be dead, but I am sure that a little part of Deanna Durbin aches anytime this film is watched. Be a good person and don’t hurt her.
After having watched Three Smart Girls (1936) and First Love (1939), I was hoping this film would get the right mix of Deanna’s acting with singing that was integrated into the storyline. It has a fair amount of her comedic acting and the singing is integrated into the movie. The problem is that film is extremely formulaic. You only feel an attachment to Deanna because she is that charming as an actress. It didn’t hurt that I came into this film having seen two prior films.
It begins with a local paper hoping that Jonathan Reynolds (Charles Laughton) will die in time for the story to go out in the next edition. Then we go into the home and bedside of the dying Reynolds where he makes a final request of his son. He wants to see his son’s fiancee before he dies. Unfortunately, the son can’t get in touch with her. Since this is a movie, that means that any girl will do because Reynolds is going to die anyways. In this case, it means that a singing girl who works at a hotel will stand in for the fiancee.
It also means that the plan works. Reynolds meets Deanna and is happy to see his son with such a sweet and beautiful woman. Of course, it also means that he doesn’t die immediately and starts to get well. Yep, this is a mistaken identity romantic comedy. It follows the predictable path of the father attaching himself to Deanna and eventually convincing the son that he has picked a winner. The funniest bit of the movie is the train porter.
Deanna tries to leave town several times only to be stopped by Reynold’s son just as the train begins to move. Instead of the porter being a yessir and trying to be as helpful as possible, he greets them with a, “I can toss you your luggage but don’t expect me to step off the train once it’s moving,” look. It’s funny because he doesn’t take any crap and leaves Deanna and the son running to catch luggage as he chucks it at them.
Aside from that funny moment, it’s all paint by numbers filmmaking. Nothing particularly bad but not really worth your time. Approach it with caution.
Now that the anniversary is over and the blackout is lifted, my punishment must continue. The next film I have chronologically is First Love (1939). That means it is time for Deannarella. That’s right, it’s Deanna Durbin in a Cinderella tale. The plot is that simple.
It begins with Deanna graduating from a boarding school to go live with her family that includes her stuck-up cousin Barbara (Helen Parrish). And by stuck-up, I mean that she is who N.W.A. is singing about in their song A Bitch Is A Bitch.
In the boarding school she was accepted and appreciated for her singing talents but upon arrival at her new home, she is greeted by a butler who looks down on her. He assumes she is one of those no good singers, rather than a noble opera singer. This is where the film shines. In Three Smart Girls Deanna was funny and perky, but her singing seemed grafted onto what was an otherwise enjoyable family comedy. Here the singing is integrated into the story. When she meets this butler and realizes what kind of singing he values, she bursts into opera. She shows him a thing or two and wins an ally in an otherwise hostile household. A household where even Deanna is her own worst enemy.
From here we go through a few scenes to drive home the decadence of the family and just how evil Barbara is to Deanna and everyone else. It’s all to get the pieces in place for the Cinderella ball plot. By that point, Deanna has not only become the darling of the butler, but is beloved by the entire household staff. When Deanna gets invited by chance to the ball and thinks modifying her graduation gown will suffice, the staff comes to her rescue with a proper dress. They come to the rescue again, when at the last minute, the family tells her she needs to stay home. And by the last minute, I mean they are walking out the door, realize something, and suddenly tell her she has to stay. The staff helps to ensure she will go to the ball!
The rest is Cinderella. Deanna goes to the ball, leaves a slipper, and winds up with prince charming. Anymore details and you would have the entire film. It’s really that simple.
I am hoping that the next Deanna Durbin film combines the writing of Three Smart Girls (1936) with the singing of this film. If they pull that off, then they will have something that is more than just worth a look.
I usually don’t watch experimental films. Every once in a while I do out of interest or as in the case of Zorn’s Lemma, it’s on the TSPDT Top 1000 list. I remember reading about it a few years back in a film textbook. It described it as taking the alphabet of letters and slowly over the course of the film replacing it with an alphabet of images. The textbook was right and that is the meat of the film. However, there is a section at the beginning of the film and the end that sort of stand outside that explanation. There is also a methodology to the way the film was made. There is a rhythm to the images and sound. It belongs to the class of films known as structural filmmaking. I don’t want to try and pull from other sources to go beyond the understanding I had upon my first viewing. I feel that is particularly important with a film of this nature.
The film starts with very simple grammar school sentences being read over a black screen. The reading is done in a rhythmic, but robotic voice. Almost like someone is trying to follow a metronome. On first viewing, this sequence only seems to establish timing. Timing is carefully maintained throughout the film visually through the length of the takes and audibly through the timing used by the voices to speak. Then comes the alphabet…
Each one of the letters is displayed separately in the order presented above. They each get the same amount of onscreen time keeping a rhythm that will continue into the next section of the film. As you can see, this isn’t exactly the correct alphabet. I believe this is the Roman Alphabet. Although, I can’t explain the reversal of X, Y, and Z. Then we move to…
The film cycles through the images above separately with that strict timing already established by the letters of the alphabet. Each word begins with the letter of the alphabet that we are currently on. It loops several times using different images of different words. Then ‘X’ gets replaced by…
The film continues to loop over the words slowly replacing more letters by images but giving us enough time to get used to their presence before swapping in another one. It goes on this way for about 40 minutes without sound. I found myself trying to figure out the relationship between the image and the letter wondering what will drop out next. Sometimes it seemed clear that an arts and crafts image for ‘D’ meant design, but fire for ‘X’? I don’t believe that there is meant to be a simple connection between the image and the letter it replaced. I think director Hollis Frampton is showing us that letters of the alphabet make up the words that are the tools of writing, then letting us slowly assimilate an alphabet of images or cuts that make up the visual medium of film. For me, that is the takeaway from this film.
The last section has the voices reading again. This time they are reading something more advanced concerning light, matter, etc. While they read, we watch two people and a dog walk away into the distance. Again, the timing is critical and matches the rhythm of the first reading sequence.
The film comes in at a little under an hour. So it’s not long. The other popular example of this type of film is Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967). That film is good but quickly maddening. Zorn’s Lemma is more accessible and is a great way to get your feet wet in experimental film while still getting something meaty from the experience. The other great thing is that it is available for free, legally at UBU Web. I highly recommend it or as Andrew Duvall at 1001 Movies I (Apparently) MUST See Before I Die would say, I have given it my seal of approval.
A week ago I made the mistake of admitting on Distant Voices and Flickering Shadows that I didn’t know about Deanna Durbin. In no time, Page of My Love Of Old Hollywood and Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood were coming down on me via Twitter. While Page was uncharacteristically merciful, Jessica demanded blood. My punishment is to watch six Deanna Durbin films. This is the first.
The film finds Deanna Durbin taking on the role of Penny. The youngest of three daughters living in Switzerland. Their parents are separated, but it still comes as a shock to the three when a newspaper arrives announcing their father might be engaged. Like Hayley Mills 25 years later, the three sisters take it upon themselves to remedy the situation.
They go on a boat to New York to be “shock troops” against the “enemy”, according to Penny. The enemy being their father’s fiancee Donna Lyons (Binnie Barnes) A.K.A The Witch. The sisters hire someone to lure away the witch from their father. They think they are getting a drunk count and end up with Lord Michael Stuart (Ray Milland) instead. What follows is comedy, romance, and more comedy. I love it when the Witch’s mother concludes that owning half of Australia isn’t that impressive since it’s mostly bush.
When I was given this punishment I started by listening to Deanna Durbin’s music. She has a wonderful voice. What she is saying makes no difference whatsoever. It is the sound that is important. They don’t have her sing all that often in the film and when they do it really doesn’t add anything. Her performance is full of humor and energy. Between Durbin, Milland, and the drunk count, I had a good time. The movie is like The Parent Trap (1961) in beta. Like the great majority of films of the 1930s it goes down smooth and then you forget about it. It just falls short of recommended. That makes it worth a look.
Done the same year as Birth Of A Nation (1915), The Raven takes Henry B. Walthall who played Col. Ben Cameron and turns him into Edgar Allen Poe. The film starts out as a biography of Poe’s life. We get a little genealogy that takes us back through a patriotic lineage. Then we get to Poe himself who apparently was a drunk with mad visions. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t really matter. It’s a good enough excuse for how he came up with his poems. Our time with Poe mainly centers on him falling in love.
Then the film gives us a reenactment of the poem with Poe as the tortured soul.
In the end, he loses his lover and can’t sell his work. Poe really becomes the very man he wrote about. A man tortured by the memory of a lost love.
It feels like it might be missing some pieces near the end. Not sure whether it’s intentional or not, but don’t expect a solid biography of Poe. Don’t expect the greatest displays of the poem either. Expect a mash up of the two in 1910’s filmmaking style. My favorite Raven will always be Corman’s. Approach this one with caution.