Anyone who has visited my blog or follows me on Twitter or read my entry in last year’s O Canada Blogathon, is aware that my love for Deanna Durbin knows no bounds. Besides her beautiful voice, Winnipeg’s Golden Girl had a natural screen presence that made her appealing to just about everyone attending the movies in the late 1930s. Mad About Music (1938) was Durbin’s third feature film. It’s also one of her most enjoyable vehicles, featuring many familiar faces in supporting roles.
|Sid Grauman, Gail Patrick, and William Frawley|
|Deanna Durbin reads a letter from her “father.”|
|Durbin and Jackie Moran|
|Universal Studios version of a Swiss village on the back lot|
|Herbert Marshall and Durbin entertain her schoolmates.|
Gloria’s happiness comes to an end when Richard leaves for Paris. After losing her “father,” Gloria is longing to see her mother, who is currently in Paris on a publicity tour. Determined to visit her, Gloria runs away from school, boarding the same Paris-board train that Richard is on. Without a ticket, the train’s conductor locks Gloria in a small room. She tells the conductor that her father is on the train, but he doesn’t believe her. To get Richard’s attention, Gloria starts singing, which draws a crowd and eventually Richard who tells the conductor that she is indeed his daughter. Dusty Taylor tries to keep Gloria away from her mother fearing it will be the end of her career as a movie “glamour girl.” Richard is determined that Gloria gets to visit her mother by barging into the press conference she is having at her hotel. Upon seeing Gloria with Richard, Gwen tells the crowd of reporters that she has a 14-year-old daughter. At first, Gloria doesn’t want to acknowledge this fact, but when she sees that her mother wants it this way, she breaks down in tears and the two embrace.
|Patrick, Durbin, and Marshall together as a family|
Mad About Music is an example of the Hollywood studio system at its best. Even with Durbin’s obvious talents, it took the geniuses at Universal to package just the right vehicles for her. Her first producer and mentor, Joeseph Pasternak (he produced 10 of her films, all at Universal) realized that Durbin was a true star and helped develop her God-given talent. It’s no secret that Durbin was unhappy toward the end of her film career, complaining that her roles were awful, even though she was still popular with moviegoers and was one of Hollywood’s highest paid actresses. After retiring, she resisted every attempt to lure her back into the spotlight. When Pasternak moved to MGM, he practically begged Durbin to come with him. She surely would have benefited from the strong musical units at that studio, but she would not be tempted. Instead she lived the rest of her days in relative obscurity in a small town outside of Paris, France.
In their review of Mad About Music, Variety said this about Durbin, “She has acquired more varied technique before the camera, without losing her ingenuous charm nor her luminous screen personality.”
Durbin’s impact on film audiences around the world cannot be understated. She was a favorite of Anne Frank. Durbin’s picture from a movie fan magazine still hangs in her bedroom at the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam. Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray admitted during his Special Oscar acceptance speech: “As a small schoolboy I was terribly interested in the cinema, became a film fan, wrote a letter to Deanna Durbin, got a reply, was delighted: wrote to Ginger Rogers, ah, didn’t get a reply. Then, of course, I got interested in cinema as an art form, and I wrote a twelve-page letter to Billy Wilder after seeing Double Indemnity. He didn’t reply either…Well, there you are.”
Way to go Deanna!
Deanna Durbin is known for having a beautiful voice, but her movies aren’t typical musicals, but rather movies with music. Mad About Music is no exception. In between escapades, Durbin sings three new songs: “I Love To Whistle,” “Chapel Bells,” and “A Serenade to the Stars.” She also sings “Ave Maria” with the Vienna Boys Choir, although the boys seen singing on screen were members of Saint Luke’s Church choir of Long Beach, California.
|Helen Parrish, Durbin, and Marcia Mae Jones ride (and sing) through the Swiss countryside.|
Some of Mad About Music’s Familiar Faces
Herbert Marshall was still considered a leading man in Hollywood at the time of Mad About Music’s release. Ironically, he played the “husband” of Margaret Sullavan in The Good Fairy in 1935. Sullavan’s character picks his name out of the phone book at random and tells a lecherous meat packer, played by Frank Morgan, that Marshall’s character is her husband to avoid his advances.
|Durbin celebrates her sweet 16 birthday with Arthur Treacher, Marshall, director Norman Taurog, and producer Joe Pasternak.|
|Jones and Durbin|
|Durbin and Helen Parrish, finally friends in Mad About Music|
Arthur Treacher made a career playing butlers in the movies, including this one and several he made with Shirley Temple.
|Durbin, Marshall, and Treacher|
|Jackie Moran and Durbin|
William Frawley had a long show business career, that includes classic films like The Farmer’s Daugher and Miracle on 34th Street, but is best known today as Fred Mertz in the TV classic I Love Lucy.
Elisabeth Risdon and Nana Bryant who play sisters and teachers Annette and Louise Fusenot, respectively, were in the screwball comedy classic Theodora Goes Wild two years earlier. Risdon played Irene Dunne’s Aunt Mary. Bryant played the wife of Dunne’s publisher, Ethel Stevenson.
Gail Patrick had played mean women in movies like My Man Godfrey and Stage Door, but gets to play a loving, if conflicted mother in Mad About Music. Rarely a sympathetic character in her early film roles, Patrick shows her versatility with her brief, but warm portrayal.
|Mother and child reunion: Patrick and Durbin|
|Durbin with Grauman getting her footprints in cement at the Chinese Theatre|