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 between 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 about 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.