Another Deanna Durbin movie: Because of Him (1946)

This weekend I watched my third Deanna Durbin movie, Because of Him (1946), co-starring Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone.  I chose to watch this one because the rapport Annex - Durbin, Deanna (Because of Him)_01between Durbin and Laughton in the first of her movies I saw, It Started With Eve, was so wonderful.  While that onscreen chemistry is still there between them in Because of Him, the movie itself wasn’t as enjoyable to me as their other film.

In Because of Him, Deanna Durbin plays Kim Walker, a waitress and aspiring actress whose only stage experience has been in high school productions.  She idolizes famous actor John Sheridan (Laughton in a delightfully hammy role) and sees all of his plays over and over.  When he stops at her restaurant en route to an out-of-town fishing trip, Kim tricks him into signing what he thinks is an autograph for a fan, but is actually the bottom of a glowing recommendation letter for a wonderful new actress – Miss Kim Walker.

Armed with the letter of introduction signed by Sheridan, Kim gets an appointment with a Broadway producer who thinks John Sheridan’s approval is a good enough reason to sign her up for the lead in the actor’s new play – no audition necessary.  The play’s author, Paul Taylor (Tone), disagrees.  He doesn’t want an untried nobody ruining his play.

When Sheridan returns early from his vacation and finds that not only is a strange girl cast opposite him, but everyone thinks she’s his protégée and they’re romantically involved, he’s shocked to say the least.  The scene during which he arrives at his apartment in the midst of a party being given there in honor of his supposed discovery is funny.  Kim feigns a fainting spell in an attempt to get out of the situation, only to be schooled by Sheridan on the proper way an actress should fake a swoon.

Sheridan is sympathetic to Kim, which is more than she really deserves after the trick she pulled on him, but he tells her she isn’t an actress and that she should go back home and forget Deanna_Durbin_Because_of_Him_R1_DVD_11052about show business.  From there things get even more complicated when Kim’s friend and fellow waitress Nora, played by Helen Broderick, lies to the press, telling them Kim attempted suicide after Sheridan dropped her both romantically and from the play.  Kim uses Nora’s lie to her advantage, getting both Sheridan and playwright Paul Taylor more and more mixed up with her until she winds up with the lead in their play after all.

Laughton and Durbin are good in their scenes together.  I especially like the moment John Sheridan realizes that Kim is more talented and promising than he initially thought, when she sings “Danny Boy” for him at his apartment.  I’ve never been especially moved by that song before, but Durbin’s emotional rendition actually left me in tears.  What a wonderful singer.

I was less impressed by Durbin’s storyline with Franchot Tone.  They didn’t seem to spend enough time together during the movie to make their romance believable, especially since most of the time they did share was spent with him telling her off, albeit deservedly, for the underhanded way she got ahead.  They did share a funny scene during which Kim follows an annoyed Paul around his hotel, singing “Goodbye” to him and a growing crowd of confused and annoyed onlookers. Overall, however, the romantic storyline left me fairly cold.

It’s hard to completely dislike Kim Walker, because Deanna Durbin is so likeable herself and because the person she most wrongs in the movie, John Sheridan, is so forgiving of her shenanigans.  To me, however, the character’s manipulative behavior crossed the line into Eve Harrington territory more than once, which made me less invested in wanting to see her succeed as an actress and lessened my enjoyment of the movie as well.

Because of Him was directed by Richard Wallace and has a beautiful score by Miklós Rózsa.  It’s available on DVD from the TCM Vault Collection with some nice extra features, including an introduction by Robert Osborne.

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My other movie goal for 2014

In addition to the 10 Classics for 2014 challenge I wrote about yesterday, my other movie-related goal for the year is to make a dent in the number of unseen movies in my possession. Ever since I got a DVD recorder about three years ago, I’ve been recording movies and saving them for a rainy day. Between those hundreds of recordings and the DVDs I’ve purchased over the years I have a lot of movies saved up — so many that I have to have an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of them all.

Of the movies on the sheet I’ve only seen about half, so this year I’m hoping to watch at least a couple of new-to-me films every week, picked at random based simply on what I’m in the mood for. Not a lofty ambition, but a fun one.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve watched so far in 2014. No doubt my viewing will slow down as the year goes on, but I’m off to a strong start. Cold, wintry weather makes for good movie watching , after all! So far everything I’ve seen has been very enjoyable and worth recommending. None have been great classics, but all are quality movies that made for fun viewing.

william-holden-jeanne-crain-edmund-gwenn-apartment-for-peggyApartment for Peggy (1948) is a sweet, funny film starring Jeanne Crain, William Holden, and Edmund Gwenn. Crain and Holden are a young married couple. He’s going to college on the GI Bill, and they can’t find anyplace to live because of the post-war housing shortage. Gwenn is a retired, widowed philosophy professor whose son died in the war. He feels his life has no meaning anymore and plans to commit suicide, until Crain talks her way into renting his attic as an apartment for her and her husband. (And their cat, and the dog she brings home one day, and their soon-to-be-born baby…)

The young couple, especially the sweet but slightly kooky girl, upsets the old man’s household and his plans to kill himself in lots of amusing and touching ways, giving him a reason to live as he grows to love them and to get interested in life again through all their ups and downs. A lovely little film. Edmund Gwenn (who played Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street) is good at playing loveable old men.

I watched this movie on a Fox MOD DVD, and I have to say the quality of the picture and sound was atrocious! This movie deserves better treatment than it got from Fox. Warner Archive does a much better job at releasing films. Honestly, just watch it on YouTube rather than buying the DVD. The quality couldn’t be any worse there than it was on the  disc.

Orchestra Wives (1942) is one of the two movies in which the Glenn Miller Orchestra was featured, the other being Sun Valley Serenade, which I was very happy to finally be able to watch during my Christmas vacation thanks to TCM. The plot — starstruck, innocent girl marries trumpet player she just met and is drawn into life on the road with other orchestra wives — is pretty simple, but the wives’ cattiness is amusing in a The Women-lite kind of way. As with Sun Valley Serenade, however, the real point of the movie is Glenn Miller’s music, which is simply wonderful.

First Love (1939) is a modern (well, 1939 modern) retelling of the Cinderella story, starring Deanna Durbin. This is the second Durbin movie I’ve seen (the other was 1941’s It Started With Eve) and I’ve enjoyed them both. Durbin’s musical style is probably hard for people today to appreciate, I don’t know, but I think she’s lovely. Her acting is so natural. She has great comic timing and can also break your heart. Plus her singing is gorgeous. This movie co-starred a very young Robert Stack in what I think was his first movie role.

I bought myself several Deanna Durbin movies with Christmas gift money after watching It Started With Eve on TCM, so I’m sure more of her stuff will be coming up for me in the weeks ahead.  It’s so fun discovering a new star to love!

Double Harness (1933) stars William Powell as a playboy who has no interest in either work or marriage, and Ann Harding as a woman who sees marriage as a business and sets out William Powell - by George Hurrell 1935to catch him and make him into the successful man she believes he can be. I completely loved this one. It’s a sophisticated look at relationships, and Powell and Harding have great chemistry. I’m starting to think Powell had great chemistry with all women, though!

Pre-Code movies never stop surprising me with how forthright they are about so many things. They’re still tame by today’s standards, of course, but compared to movies from the years after the Code began being strictly enforced they’re shockingly open. For instance Powell and Harding start sleeping together after just a few dates, and there are no punches pulled about this fact. Nothing like that would’ve happened in a movie just a few years later.

Vivacious Lady (1938) had been on my to-watch list for ages, and I don’t know why I waited so long to see it because it’s really good. Jimmy viv ladyStewart plays a quiet, reserved botany professor from a small college town who falls in love at first sight with a spunky nightclub performer, played by Ginger Rogers. They marry after a whirlwind one-day courtship, then head to his hometown to introduce her to his stuffy father, the college president.

Once back home, Stewart can’t seem to find the right moment or the necessary backbone to tell his father he’s married to a blonde singer he met a few days before. Lots of silliness ensues.

Charles Coburn plays Stewart’s father and Beulah Bondi plays his mother. Those two alone make pretty much anything worth watching, and they’re as good as always in this.

In The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936), William Powell plays a medical doctor and Jean Arthur plays his murder mystery author ex-wife. They’re still obviously in love in spite of being divorced, and when they get caught up in a real life murder when a jockey falls off his horse and dies under mysterious circumstances, there’s lots of mystery and even more witty banter.

This movie struck me as a wannabe Thin Man film. It isn’t on a par with that series, but it’s still lots of fun. Jean Arthur is one of my favorite actresses, and of course William Powell is always perfect. The wry wit combined with silliness, the jaunty walk, the mustache, the dimples…sigh. I’m feeling very smitten with him lately, the way my girlfriends are feeling about their Cumberbatches or whoever. Granted, my crush was born 122 years ago this year, but that doesn’t make my love any less real. 😉