I hinted at the idea that I would be well-represented in this month’s Musicals: With A Song And A Dance In My Heart blogathon, and that continues to be true! Today, we’re looking at the 1938 Deanna Durbin musical Mad About Music, also starring Herbert Marshall, Gail Patrick and Arthur Treacher!
Coming Up Shorts! with… A Tough Winter (1930)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 (1929-1930) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 20 minutes, 35 seconds)
On a cold winter’s day, the gang spend some time inside with handyman Stepin Fetchit before getting together for a taffy pull. This one is one of the weaker shorts in this bunch, purely because of how poorly Stepin Fetchit and his very stereotyped comedy have aged (i.e., not well). There is some fun to be had with the taffy pull, as it starts out with the old “radio recipe switch”-type of gag (you know, where it starts off with one recipe and switches to another while nobody is listening). Then, there is all the mess the gang creates as they try to pull the taffy through the house (and boy, is it sticky). I would say that there is some enjoyment to be had here, but it mostly requires also being able to stomach the altogether too prominent Stepin Fetchit and his schtick.
And Now For The Main Feature…
Gwen Taylor (Gail Patrick) is a big Hollywood actress, with an equally big secret: she has a fourteen-year-old daughter! However, much to Gwen’s dismay, her manager, Dusty Turner (William Frawley), believes it’s better that the public doesn’t know about her daughter, as Gwen is considered a glamour girl. So, her daughter, Gloria Harkinson (Deanna Durbin), is going to a boarding school in Switzerland run by the Fusenot sisters, Annette (Elisabeth Risdon) and Louise (Nana Bryant). Gloria can’t talk about her mother, and since her father, a Navy flier, died when she was a baby, she decides to make up stories about a world-traveling, big-game hunter father. To help maintain these stories, she writes herself letters to send through the mail using different stamps from around the world collected by her friend, Pierre (Christian Rub), and has her mother send her different gifts, like an elephant tusk (although her mother has no idea why Gloria wants any of these things). However, another one of the girls at the school, Felice (Helen Parrish), doesn’t believe Gloria, and is bound and determined to prove that Gloria is making everything up. At a church service, Gloria meets a young boy named Tommy (Jackie Moran) from a nearby military boarding school who has a crush on her. When she finds out that he is also an American, she makes plans to meet him the next day. However, she gets into trouble and is punished. Being that the Fusenot sisters don’t like the girls mixing with the boys, Gloria’s only way to get out of there is to pretend to be meeting her father at the train station. However, all the other girls (including Felice) follow her, so she picks out the newly arrived composer Richard Todd (Herbert Marshall), telling him lies while making it appear to the other girls like he is supposed to be her father. Later, the Fusenot sisters come to Richard (via his butler/secretary Tripps, played by Arthur Treacher) to invite him to lunch. Upon learning why, he decides to come and tell the truth, but Gloria’s pleading convinces him to go along with her stories and pretend to be her father. For a few days, Richard enjoys acting as Gloria’s father, but then he is called to Paris on business. At first, Gloria plans to say goodbye, with plans to later “kill off” her father, but, upon seeing a newspaper story saying that her mother is in Paris, she decides to sneak on the train with Richard to go see her. But, with her mother being accompanied by her manager, Dusty Turner (who is trying to help Gwen maintain appearances as a glamour girl), will Gloria be able to see her mother? Or, for that matter, will she be able to maintain all the stories that she’s been telling about her father?
Following on from what I said about Deanna Durbin’s 1941 film Nice Girl?, I enjoyed Mad About Music as much for the music as I did for the rest of the film. This film had her singing four songs: three new ones written for this movie (“A Serenade To The Stars,” “I Love To Whistle” and “Chapel Bells”) with music by Jimmy McHugh and lyrics by Harold Adamson, plus the classic hymn “Ave Maria.” I will admit, her version of “Ave Maria” is a little different than what I’m used to whenever I have heard the song. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just slightly jarring compared to how I’ve heard others do it. I do kind of like it, though and it’s one I hope will grow on me more with subsequent viewings. Of the three new songs, though, I quickly grew fond of “I Love To Whistle.” Of course, I should warn you that, if you don’t like that song, this movie will be harder to enjoy, as it’s sung at least three times in the movie (with Cappy Barra’s Harmonica Ensemble joining in for some fun on the second time). Again, I like it (and I thought the harmonica band was fun to watch), so, for me, it’s a plus to hear it so much!
Of course, the music is hardly the only reason I like this movie, as I certainly think the comedy adds something to it as well! Most of the comedy stems from the lies that Deanna’s Gloria tells about her father, and some of the lengths she has to go to to maintain them. The funniest moments are when Herbert Marshall’s Richard Todd decides to go along with them, particularly when he’s telling stories at the lunch, even managing to go along with the curve balls that Helen Parrish’s Felice is determined to throw to disprove everything. Overall, it’s a very heartwarming tale as we see Gloria and Richard becoming a father and daughter. The only complaint I have is how quick Richard and Gail Patrick’s Gwen Taylor become a couple at the end, without anything happening beforehand to indicate that they would like each other, but it’s a very minor thing. Overall, a very entertaining movie that I know I look forward to revisiting again and again in the future, and one I have no problem whatsoever in recommending!
This movie is available on Blu-ray from Universal Studios. The transfer on this one is pretty good. A lot of the dust and dirt has been cleaned up. There are some scratches and dirt here and there, but they are relatively easy to miss (and forget). Like the previously reviewed Nice Girl?, this film was one of nine licensed by Kino Lorber Studio Classics (and one of the six that were dropped when the first three-film set bombed), so I’m glad to see that it did make it out to Blu-ray just the same, in a release I would certainly recommend!
Film Length: 1 hour, 36 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
*ranked #5 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2021
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
One Hundred Men And A Girl (1937) – Deanna Durbin – That Certain Age (1938)
The Good Fairy (1935) – Herbert Marshall
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