65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
DELIGHTFUL DURBIN IN ADEQUATE DVD TRANSFERS,
This review is from: Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack (Three Smart Girls / Something In the Wind / First Love / It Started with Eve / Can't Help Singing / Lady on a Train) (DVD)
The four star rating is for the somewhat pedestrian quality of the transfers, not an indication on Durbin's alleged lack of singing/acting ability or appeal as the following commentary will demonstrate....
Deanna Durbin was one of the most influential and popular Hollywood stars of all time. As the world's first "Teen Idol" and the first child star to make the heretofore unsuccessful transition from child to adult roles while retaining her public and critical popularity, it was Deanna Durbin who first proved that an adolescent, even one with an astonishingly mature operatic lyric soprano, could be a potent and enduring box office attraction. The only performer in film history to be publicly credited with singlehandedly saving her studio (Universal) from bankruptcy and sustaining it as a Hollywood player for several years with the wildly successful grosses of her films, as film historians such as William K. Everson, David Shipman and Ethan Mordden have stated, Durbin remained, throughout her thirteen year tenure at Universal, the studio's most lucrative and valuable asset and its only consistently ranking box office star.
It was the great critical and popular acclaim accorded Durbin's debut in THREE SMART GIRLS and her subsequent vehicles (both THREE SMART GIRLS and Durbin's second film 100 MEN AND A GIRL received Oscar nominations for Best Picture) over the next several years that prompted MGM and other studios to begin assembling and promoting their own stable of charismatic and talented young performers. Among the most notable Durbin "follow ups" (as one critic labeled them) were Judy Garland (whose studio, MGM didn't begin promoting her in earnest until after the great acclaim accorded Durbin in THREE SMART GIRLS and who, in contemporary interviews, publicly thanked Deanna for creating a market for and interest in, starring roles for adolescent girls), Susanna Foster (signed by MGM but droppred before she appeared in a film and subsequently signed by both Paramount and later, Universal), Ann Blyth and Gloria Jean (both signed by Universal to take up in Durbin's adolescent roles as she grew into adulthood), Gloria Warren (signed as Warner's answer to Durbin) and, at MGM, Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell (MGM's most talented and successful operatic Durbin follow up). As David Shipman commented: "Every studio wanted a Durbin, but no one wanted one as badly as Louis B. Mayer."
Although all of these subsequent performers, particularly Garland, were attractive, popular and talented, of the group only Garland seriously rivaled Durbin's great popularity with press and public and only with 1944's MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, released seven years after Durbin's 1937 debut in THREE SMART GIRLS, did Garland (who, prior to ST LOUIS had served primarily as a critical but supporting co-star to Mickey Rooney in their ANDY HARDY and BABES films) obtain the type of "A" list, top-billed solo star status at MGM that Durbin had secured with her Universal film debut. Significantly, despite all of its' considerable resources which included signing Durbin's producer/director team of Joe Pasternak and Henry Koster following their departure from Universal in 1941, neither Grayson nor the unjustly underrated Powell nor their films, though well-made and certainly entertaining and popular, made the sensational impression on press and public that Durbin and her films did, nor have Grayson and Powell's Durbin-inspired MGM vehicles generated the enduring interest and acclaim accorded Durbin and her films by film scholars and historian in succeeding decades.
Pasternak himself clearly recognized Durbin's greater talent and appeal vis-a-vis her MGM rivals. Although he was largely responsible for developing and fostering the screen images of Grayson and Powell at MGM as he had done with Durbin at Universal, Deanna Durbin was the only one of his teen soprano screen stars who Pasternak avidly and diligently pursued to make a screen comeback under his aegis in the decades following her retirement from the screen, and even though Garland in the second half of her MGM career, obtained a comparable degree of stardom to rival Durbin's, in 1945 and 1947, when Garland was at the very peak of her MGM critical and popular acclaim, Deanna Durbin was the highest paid woman in the United States and her fan club was reported to be, as it had been for some time, one of the world's biggest.
Nor was Pasternak the only entertainment executive interested in obtaining Durbin's services following her announced retirement in 1949. According to published reports, among the very tempting and lucrative offers which Durbin declined following her departure from Universal and Hollywood were: a lucrative contract from MGM, the opportunities to play the female lead (Katharine/Lili Vanessi) in the London stage production and 1953 MGM film version of KISS ME KATE (producer Jack Cummings reportedly flew to Paris to offer Durbin this role in person and only gave it to Grayson after Durbin declined), co-starring roles opposite Bing Crosby (who wanted her for both TOP 'O THE MORNING and A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT), the offer (from Alan Jay Lerner) to create the role of "Eliza Doolittle" in the original production of MY FAIR LADY and the offer of a blank cheque to perform in concert in Las Vegas. (Durbin was also wanted by the Theater Guild for the female lead in the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! in 1943, but Universal refused to loan her out.)
As for the collection itself, while there's little doubt that MCA/UNIVERSAL could have done a better job of transfering the films to DVD (THREE SMART GIRLS in particular has a sightly grainy quality), the quality overall is quite good, especially considering the bargain price, and most customers should be more than satisfied with the overall picture quality of the transfers, which is a definite improvement over the VHS editions. Moreover the titles contained in the collection provide a good overall survey for the curious viewer unfamilar with Durbin and her work to appraise her career and talent. From her starmaking debut in 1937'S THREE SMART GIRLS (in which she receives special billing as "Universal's New Discovery") to her transition to ingenue in 1939's Cinderella update FIRST LOVE (in which she received a much-publicized first onscreen kiss from screen newcomer Robert Stack) to her first fully adult role in 1941's IT STARTED WITH EVE (which contains some gentle satirizing of the same year's CITIZEN KANE in its' opening scenes), Durbin's Universal vehicles were characterized by top-flight production values and supporting talent (her supporting casts in these films include some of the finest character actors of all time including, Charles Laughton, Alice Brady, Mischa Auer, Eugene Pallette. Akim Tamiroff and Leonid Kinskey) and although more modest and leaner in scope than MGM's bigger budgeted musical productions, they also are more breezy insouciant stylish and sophisticated than MGM's homespun middle-American productions, and are unburdened by the jingoistic, self-serving sentimentality and proselytizing which mar the contemporaneous MGM productions of Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and others.
Moreover the varied genres in which Durbin dabbled in the films of this collection, from screwball comedies with music (THREE SMART GIRLS, FIRST LOVE IT STARTED WITH EVE) to screwball noir (LADY ON A TRAIN), to more traditional musicals ( the lavish Technicolored Western musical CAN'T HELP SINGING, and the urbane pop-oriented screwball SOMETHING IN THE WND), indicate that Universal had a greater faith in her charm and talent to retain her following in out-of-sort vehicles than MGM had in Garland's, Powell's, Grayson's and other of their musical stars to do so. Incidentally, Durbin is also the only one of the "Teen Sopranos" of that era to have inspired true "crossover" appeal. Among the notable artists who have cited Durbin as one of the most important sources of inspiration and/or admiration are: Mel Torme (who lists Durbin as one of his "Musical Heroines" in his autobiography), Maureen McGovern, Jane Powell, Joan Sutherland, Gracie Fields, Lawrence Tibbett, Elly Ameling, Mstislav Rostropovich, Nancy Lamott and Monica Mancini.
More than half a century after her retirement from the screen, Durbin's films remain bright, breezy and enormously entertaining, and prove the uniquely compelling and enduring aspects of both her remarkable talent and appeal. Durbin's independent, resourceful and impulsive screen image has remained surprisingly contemporary, but although vestiges of the feisty "Little Miss Fixit" adolescent/young adult onscreen persona Durbin patented have endured in the decades since her retirement in the screen images of both musical (e.g, Julie Andrews in THE SOUND OF MUSIC and THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE) and non-musical (e.g., Sandra Dee, Sandra Bullock,Ricki Lake Hilary Duff, Amanda Bynes, Anne Hathaway, etc.) and other actresses, despite repeated attempts to clone her throughout the years, Durbin remains to this day a uniquely appealing and talented personality, and her best films uniquely appealing stylish and enjoyable products of the studio system at its' finest.
The significant impact Deanna Durbin had on film history and the uniquely appealing combination of looks, and naturalistic charm and musico-acting ability she brought to the screen have never been fully appreciated or equalled and this collection provides a fine basis for finding out why she has continued to remain a source of fascination and inspiration in the over half century since she retired. She's well worth checking out and, whether you're a casual viewer or devoted film buff, you're really missing out on something special if you don't take the opportunity to do so.
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Initial post: Jun 7, 2013 7:34:04 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 7, 2013 7:35:25 PM PDT
Culture Vulture is an easy read w/lots of valuable information accompanying his reviews. I always look forward to both reading intelligent, experienced analyses and insightful stuff in the writing style of Culture Vulture.
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