“Star Of The Month (February 2022)” Featuring Deanna Durbin in… Can’t Help Singing (1944)

I’m here now for my first film in this month-long celebration of actress Deanna Durbin with her 1944 film Can’t Help Singing, co-starring Robert Paige, Akim Tamiroff and David Bruce!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Ration Bored (1943)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection from Universal Studios)

(Length: 6 minutes, 51 seconds)

Disregarding the idea of conserving gas and tires, Woody Woodpecker goes out for a drive, only to run out of gas at the bottom of a hill. He and his car are then smacked into a junkyard, where he siphons gas from a few other vehicles, including a cop car (with the cop in it). Seeing as this short was released during World War II, it’s hard to cheer for Woody at first as he ignores the good sense to conserve gas (although it’s hard not to laugh when, as he sees a sign asking if a trip is really necessary, he replies with “Sure, it’s necessary. I’m a necessary evil!”). Once he starts dealing with the poor cop, then it’s a little more typical Woody Woodpecker (and a much better cartoon from that point on). Certainly not the best Woody cartoon I’ve seen in this bunch, but I can’t deny it was worth a few laughs!

And Now For The Main Feature…

It’s the time of the gold rush in California, and the U.S. cavalry has just delivered the first shipment of gold to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. After finding out the results of the recent election, cavalryman Lieutenant Robert Latham (David Bruce) has rejected the daughter of an outgoing senator in favor of the daughter of the more popular (and successful) Senator Martin Frost (Ray Collins). The senator knows that the lieutenant is a political opportunist, but his daughter Caroline (Deanna Durbin) believes the lieutenant’s intentions to be true, and wants to marry him. Trying to discourage the romance, the senator uses his political connections to get the lieutenant sent back to California as quickly as possible. That’s not enough to stop Caroline, as she tricks her father into giving her enough money to catch up to the lieutenant and runs away. Once she gets to Independence, Missouri, she finds out that her only way forward is to join up with the wagon train heading west. After she realizes that she has been conned into buying a wagon by Sad Sam (Andrew Tombes) (who doesn’t own the wagon that he “sold” her), she tries to get her money back. However, Sad Sam has lost the money in a poker game to another card sharp, Johnny Lawlor (Robert Paige). When the owner of the bar announces that the local marshal has warrants for many people, including card sharps and the daughter of a senator (whose father is offering a substantial reward for her return), they both skedaddle. Johnny realizes that Caroline is the senator’s daughter, but he can’t quite turn her in by himself due to the warrant for his arrest. She decides to offer him double what her father is offering in exchange for getting her to Fort Bridger (where her fiancé is stationed), with the money to be paid by the rich Jake Carstairs (Thomas Gomez) (whom she claims is her fiancé instead of the lieutenant). Johnny reluctantly agrees to the proposition, and they pay for the wagon that Caroline had tried to buy earlier (but this time, from the rightful owner). They find themselves joined by Prince Gregory Stroganovsky (Akim Tamiroff) and his friend Koppa (Leonid Kinskey), who had been trying to get into Caroline’s trunk after she had previously told them it contained her valuables. In order for their group to join the wagon train, they have to pretend that Gregory is Caroline’s husband (since the leader of the train doesn’t want any unattached females that he has to help keep out of trouble). Over the trek, Caroline and Johnny argue a bit, but they also find themselves falling for each other. The spell is broken, though, when the train nears Fort Bridger, and Johnny helps Caroline join up with another family heading that way. But will their love bring them back together? Or will Johnny find out the truth about who she was going to see?

Ever since the late thirties, there were plans to showcase actress Deanna Durbin in Technicolor, but for various reasons, she either ended up not doing the films being planned, or they were done in black-and-white. Finally, they ended up pulling it off with Can’t Help Singing, a film that was based on the story Girl of the Overland Trail (written by Samuel J. and Curtis B. Warshawsky). The film was at least partly shot on location in Lake Arrowhead, California as well as various places in Utah (including, but not limited to, Johnson Canyon, Duck Creek, Cascade Falls, Navajo Lake, Strawberry Point, and Cedar Breaks). Up to that point, Can’t Help Singing was one of Universal’s more expensive films to produce, but it ended up being pretty well received, and was nominated for Oscars with regard to the score and the song “More And More.”

Like all the other Deanna Durbin films that I’ve seen (and reviewed), this film was new to me, and I will readily admit that I think it’s one of her better films! In color, she (and the scenery) look quite beautiful (and it certainly makes me wish that she had done more films in Technicolor)! As usual, her singing is superb, but I will definitely admit to liking the title song quite a bit, with the song “Californ-I-Ay” coming in a close second. That latter song has led some to compare the film a little bit to the stage classic Oklahoma, but I would say that the movie feels to me like a version of the classic screwball comedy It Happened One Night set in the old west (after all, we have a daughter’s potential marriage being rejected by her father, her running away to see her boyfriend, only to fall for someone else who helps her out). I certainly wouldn’t say that Can’t Help Singing is anywhere near as good as that classic, but it’s an enjoyable film with a fun cast, beautiful (and fun!) music, and great scenery! In short, like all the other Deanna Durbin movies I’ve seen so far, I would recommend this film without a moment of hesitation!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Can’t Help Singing (1944)

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Studios. By and large, this movie looks quite good on the recent Blu-ray release! It really seems to show off the Technicolor look quite well! There seems to be some (barely noticeable) dirt here and there, but, again, it doesn’t really distract from the movie itself. I certainly like how it looks, and would have no hesitation in recommending the Blu-ray as the best way to see the movie (especially since it was one of the nine films originally licensed by Kino Lorber but dropped when their first set of Deanna Durbin films failed to sell)!

Film Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #4 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2022

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

It Started With Eve (1941)Deanna DurbinBecause Of Him (1946)

The Great McGinty (1940) – Akim Tamiroff

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