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The Wonderful Deanna Durbin
Posted: October 15th, 2007, 12:57 pm
I always thought this talented actress and singer was at least the equal of Judy Garland. She had a great personality, wonderful singing voice and fine sense of comedy and made several highly-rated movies in the 30s and 40s which stand the test of time even now. Which makes her retirement at the age of 28 even more of a mystery. She is one star who has completely retreated from the limelight refusing all requests for interviews and living in complete privacy and seclusion. She is now coming up to 86 and lives in a village just outside Paris (where she has lived since marrying the late director Charles David in 1950). I wonder if anyone else has any anecdotes or opinions about this talented former child star.
Re: The Wonderful Deanna Durbin
Posted: October 15th, 2007, 11:38 pm
tallulahfan wrote:I always thought this talented actress and singer was at least the equal of Judy Garland. She had a great personality, wonderful singing voice and fine sense of comedy and made several highly-rated movies in the 30s and 40s which stand the test of time even now. Which makes her retirement at the age of 28 even more of a mystery. She is one star who has completely retreated from the limelight refusing all requests for interviews and living in complete privacy and seclusion. She is now coming up to 86 and lives in a village just outside Paris (where she has lived since marrying the late director Charles David in 1950). I wonder if anyone else has any anecdotes or opinions about this talented former child star.
I love both Judy and Deanna, and find it curious that we still force them into competition. To me they were in two different games. They were the same age (six months apart) and sang. From there, they diverged.
Judy's talent was in her warm, adult voice. But also in that she was able to evoke a sense of sincerity from hokum. She could make horrible, sentimental lines read like truth. Her big brown eyes were plaintiff, and the audiences would be won over by their gaze. She was the underdog that we hoped would triumph.
Deanna's talent was in her pure, lyric voice. But also that she was a spitfire. This lass was no underdog; she was a can-do winner. She had spunk. Her eyes had spark. She had sass. While Judy was asking skeptics to be her audience (Pigskin Parade
, Love Finds Andy Hardy
), Deanna was barging into concert halls and singing for Stokowski.
Yes, I love them both. I'd wish that Universal would release a second Sweetheart pack for Durbin, and that Warners would make Judy's Thoroughbreds Don't Cry
, Everybody Sing
, Listen Darling
and Broadway Melody of 1938
available to us.
Re: The Wonderful Deanna Durbin
Posted: December 30th, 2007, 7:26 pm
I wrote:I'd wish that Universal would release a second Sweetheart pack for Durbin, and that Warners would make Judy's Thoroughbreds Don't Cry, Everybody Sing, Listen Darling and Broadway Melody of 1938 available to us.
I see that Broadway Melody of 1938
will be released in the upcoming Volume 3 of the "Dream Factory" series put out by Warner Home Video (thank you, George Feltenstein!). It'll be released on April 8, 2008.
Now, where're the remaining Deanna Durbin flicks on DVD when we need them?
Posted: December 31st, 2007, 11:11 am
Jeanine Basinger devotes a chapter to Deanna in her new book The Star Machine. BTW, while I do not always agree with Basinger's opinions, I think it's a fine and very readable book.
Posted: January 1st, 2008, 1:50 pm
I enjoyed the chapter on Durbin in The Star Machine. It laid to rest several misconceptions that I had about Durbin. I've only become a Durbin fan in the last few years. Her films were never shown on tv when I was a kid, unlike the MGM and Fox musicals. Most of her films didn't make it onto VHS, either. I had only seen her in ONE film, Three Smart Girls, when AMC showed it many, many years ago. I bought the Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack because it was on sale at my local Borders. I've since become a fan.
Posted: January 14th, 2008, 12:28 pm
I never heard of Deanna Durbin until I read Thomas Schatz's "The Genius of the system," in which he gave her credit for saving Universal.
Apparently, because her films were shown in the USSR during WWII, she still has a following in Russia. When I was in Moscow in 1995, a photo of Durbin hung between Clark Gable's and Bette Davis' in the Illuzion theater in Moscow.
I found "Three Smart Girls" enjoyable, but perhaps more for Mischa Auer's and Ray Milland's comedy. I am shocked when Durbin sings a "classical" piece. "Lady on a Train" is a fun little parody noir. Again, I like the humor of her films more than the music. Indeed, she sang a sexy "Silent night" in "Lady on a Train" that just left me baffled.
Posted: January 15th, 2008, 9:23 pm
yes, I was a little confused by that very sexy Silent Night Deanna croons into the telephone in Lady on a Train! Wasn't she singing to her father? Weird. But she looked absolutely gorgeous.
Posted: January 16th, 2008, 12:01 pm
rudyfan wrote:Jeanine Basinger devotes a chapter to Deanna in her new book The Star Machine. BTW, while I do not always agree with Basinger's opinions, I think it's a fine and very readable book.
I just finished reading Basinger's book, and I hated it. Actually, I "finished reading" it, but didn't finish it, because I put it down in disgust about 3/4 of the way through. I was a little surprised that a supposed academic, the chairman of a film department, could write such a simplistic, gushing, ungrammatical, repetitve, and underclassman kind of book. None of her favorite movies (and she's not shy in telling you what she just loves) are good, they are all "superb," or "brilliant." Her favorite actresses are also "brilliant," and in some cases "exquisitely beautiful," which in my opinion is a real stretch of the concept. She natters on about the beauty of the male stars, and prints some of their least flattering photos in the book. Oh, come on, Jeanine, grow up. The Star Machine
reads like a star-struck and very, very long blog, not like the writing of a supposed academic expert. Phooey.
But she did do one thing for me: I never liked Durbin in her juvenile roles -- a little too nose-wrinkly, eyelash-batting, spunky, sparkly, gee-whiz for my taste, and I loathe those thin, reedy psuedo-"opera" voices, like Durbin's. But I've never seen any of Durbin's "older" movies, and after reading Basinger's hero-worshipping descriptions, I'm curious to do so.
Posted: January 17th, 2008, 12:19 pm
Judith, I loved Basinger's book. I like her writing style; I always feel like she talking to a friend over coffee. She does get her facts right, too.
Oh well, to each his own!
I've only seen 2 of Durbin's adult roles. I liked her performances very much, less brash little miss-fix-it, although the miss-fix-it thing is there in all of her films, it seems.
Posted: January 17th, 2008, 12:49 pm
LOL! John, poor Tiri Te Kanawa. I have to agree.
I do love Audra McDonald's voice.
Posted: January 17th, 2008, 1:57 pm
jdb1 wrote: I never liked Durbin in her juvenile roles -- a little too nose-wrinkly, eyelash-batting, spunky, sparkly, gee-whiz for my taste, and I loathe those thin, reedy psuedo-"opera" voices, like Durbin's. But I've never seen any of Durbin's "older" movies, and after reading Basinger's hero-worshipping descriptions, I'm curious to do so.
That's exactly the type of voice I do like. Dubin was a coloratura, the only soprano voice I can stand. It's the full-out operatic soprano that I detest. Opera voices are my least favorite, male or female. Mostly they are all bombast, covered, with horrendous diction, because the note's the thing. And while I can take a "fake opera singer", I can't stomach an opera singer trying to do Broadway or Jazz (Kiri Te Kanawa anyone? Oy!). The results are universally lousy and embarrassing. In the case of Durbin, she could hit the notes and enunciate at the same time, so she scores points for that.
I do agree with you about operatic voices singing show tunes or pop -- embarrassing is the word. Such music wasn't written for that kind of power voice. An opera singer isn't a belter, in the sense we normally use the word. I was raised on both pop music (before rock'n'roll, that is) and opera. I have no problem with a full-throated opera singer. Some are definitely all bombast, bells and whistles, but some are artists of great passion and nuance, as is called for in opera.
On the other hand, to my ear voices like Durbin's are not suited to such music -- she might have done better to sing German Lieder and other recital songs, which require a less full voice. I just don't care for it, and it makes pop music sung in that kind of neither here nor there voice sound pretentious and silly. Singers like Durbin and Grayson and their ilk sound like the kind of folk who were trotted out at a family party because there were considered the talented ones who could sing louder than everyone else. They were considered to have "Kul-chur." When that group appears, you can include me out. I'd rather hear someone who knows how to put over a song, rather than someone who just chirps and pushes her voice much farther than it should comfortably go.
John, you and I will never agree on this -- we have diametrically opposed tastes in singers and song writers. I wouldn't go to a Sondheim show if you paid me, and took me to dinner, with ice cream later. But so what -- that's why we're here, to exchange opinions. Even if I don't agree with you, I am happy to read your input, which is always well-considered and heartfelt. JDB
Posted: January 18th, 2008, 10:51 am
JohnM wrote:But we do agree. While I have seen many Sondheim shows, I hate his music with an absolute passion. You couldn't get me to sit through or listen to <b>Sweeney Todd</b> again, on a court order. It's just horrible-sounding noise to me. As is most of his stuff.
I can take the earlier Sondheim slightly more than the current. I think he has become so darn full of his own wonderfulness, and his music, with a few exceptions, is so hard to listen to. I've seen, I think, three of his shows, and I think each of them was an act-and-a-half too long. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde -- "The unsingable performed by the unlikeable." I also think he's suffering from a Lenny Bernstein Wannabe complex. Sondheim's music pales pitifully in comparison to Bernstein's (even to Elmer Bernstein's, for that matter).
And yet so many people I know here in NYC just rave on about how great his shows are. Such is the legacy of removing music appreciation from school curricula. They simply don't know any better.
Posted: January 18th, 2008, 12:35 pm
I've neither the musical background nor an inclination to evaluate Deanna Durbin's voice. All I can say as someone who enjoys opera and movies is that I liked her coloratura and presence better than Kathryn Grayson's soprano voice or her acting, which affects me the way that fingernails on the blackboard do others, (even though I realize that may have been because of some of the direction Grayson was given, not necessarily her) . Actually, as someone who loves music and movies, but not necessarily together, (it's those long, arid patches called the plot between numbers that get me down most of the time, though there are exceptions), I found Durbin and her films to be refreshingly different in quality.
More to the point, now that I've had a chance to see several of the movies in the Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack, I liked Durbin as a performer, particularly in It Started With Eve (1941) and Lady On a Train (1945). "Eve" was a well-played farce, with Charles Laughton giving one of his best ensemble performances, along with Walter Catlett & Ruth Donnelly as attendant medical staff and Laughton's foils. The director Henry Koster and screenplay by Hanns Kräly, Norman Krasna and who really knows how many others, was what most comedies wish they could be. And holy cow, look at those production values!! Those interior sets at the Laughton mansion were amusingly outsized, like San Simeon on steroids.
Even Robert Cummings, who can be so annoyingly smarmy, was far better here than in other comedies I've seen him in. I wonder what vitamins Bob the health nut was ingesting in the early forties, giving him some plum roles in The Devil and Miss Jones, Saboteur, King's Row and this one--or was it just Lady Luck and a dearth of leading men in town due to that little dust up, WWII? Of course, maybe I'd like the guy better if I'd first seen him in these superior Hollywood products, rather than the prurient malarkey that he was in later.
Best of all, was Ms. Durbin. Aside from the fact that her voice was lovely, (in a preternatural way), her comic timing in the knockabout scenes, her quiet scenes with Laughton, and most interestingly, her blend of wholesomeness with sexiness and a soupçon of intelligence was unique. A most interesting performer and certainly this film is one of the best representatives of her work.
The other film, Lady on a Train, which I've written about at length before on the TCM message board, was delightful--though, as noted, the overly sexy but beautiful rendition of Silent Night sung, most oddly, to her unseen Dad on the phone, was uh, "peculiar" and a tad disturbing. I'd never seen her in any movie until I caught this one on TCM a couple of years ago. She, along with Ralph Bellamy and Dan Duryea, were great.
I must say that I loathed Three Smart Girls (sue me), but First Love, and Can't Help Singing (1944) are next on my list. Something in the Wind (1947), is a title that must've given critics too easy a target back in the late '40s, but I'm intrigued by the presence of John Dall in the cast, especially after seeing the extraordinary Gun Crazy for the first time recently.
The only film that I think deserves transfer to dvd in the states, but has yet to receive it, is the dark Christmas Holiday (1944), which I saw because I'm a die-hard Robert Siodmak fan. This movie, which I don't believe has been seen on tv in some time, features a beautiful Frank Loesser song, "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year", sung by Ms. Durbin. Actually, maybe this movie is still buried due to the ticked off hard core Deanna Durbin fans who have posted their disgruntled comments on IMDb. It would be better to approach it as a NON-musical and a film noir, despite the presence of Durbin and Gene Kelly.
Were any of Deanna Durbin's movies shown on tv in the '60s-'80s? I can't recall seeing her until the advent of TCM and other classic film venues. If not, why not?