Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Mad About Music (1938)

Gloria Harkinson (Deanna Durbin) attends a charming Swiss boarding school, but she doesn't have a father and hasn't seen her American movie star mother Gwen (Gail Patrick) in several years. Gwen's manager has convinced Gwen that if the public believes she's old enough to have a teenage daughter, she'll lose her career and her ability to support her daughter.

Lonely Gloria can't talk about her mother, so she makes up stories for her classmates about having a father who is a world explorer; when circumstances demand that Gloria produce a "real" father on the spot, she snags a man getting off a train -- who is none other than urbane, delightfully bemused Herbert Marshall. Being Herbert Marshall, of course he finds himself going along with Gloria's charade. Before too long he finds himself taking a genuine paternal interest in Gloria. Then Gloria's mother comes to Europe...

The plot is rather far-fetched, but it's all in good fun, and the actors -- especially Durbin and Marshall -- are wonderful. The production crew obviously never set foot off the back lot, but the film nonetheless conveys a great sense of "place" with its gingerbread-house depiction of Switzerland. Deanna sings "Ave Maria," "Chapel Bells," and "I Love to Whistle," among other tunes, and she also proves herself to be adept at both comedy and drama.

Deanna Durbin's films were always top of the line, including the supporting casts. The cast of MAD ABOUT MUSIC includes Arthur Treacher (marvelous as Marshall's confidential secretary), Franklin Pangborn, William Frawley, Elisabeth Risdon, and Nana Bryant. Helen Parrish, who also appeared with Durbin in THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP and FIRST LOVE, is effective as Felice, a student who is Gloria's nemesis.

Marcia Mae Jones, who plays Gloria's best friend Olga, is one of my favorite child actresses. One of Jones's earliest film appearances was as Nanny, the little girl being starved in NIGHT NURSE (1931), reviewed here. Jones's delicate features and sweet, fragile nature served her well in classic films such as William Wyler's THESE THREE (1936), in which she played Rosalie, the student bullied by Bonita Granville, and the Shirley Temple version of HEIDI (1937), in which she played wheelchair-bound Clara. Jones also played mean Lavinia opposite Temple in A LITTLE PRINCESS (1939) and was Cousin Mary in David O. Selznick's filming of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1938). Jones had small parts in two more Durbin films, FIRST LOVE and NICE GIRL?

Marcia Mae Jones passed away a year ago at the age of 83. You can read a most interesting interview with her at the Classic Images website.

MAD ABOUT MUSIC was directed by Norman Taurog. It runs 100 minutes.

MAD ABOUT MUSIC can be seen on video.

Previous reviews of Deanna Durbin movies: FIRST LOVE (1939), HIS BUTLER'S SISTER (1943), NICE GIRL? (1941), FOR THE LOVE OF MARY (1948), and BECAUSE OF HIM (1946).

Update: MAD ABOUT MUSIC is now available on DVD.

5 Comments:

Blogger Irene said...

Yes, another VHS tape that the LA County library has. I've just requested it. I did see "Because of Him" last week and really enjoyed it. Got a big kick out of Charles Laughton and her version of Danny Boy was very moving.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Grable said...

You've really made me curious about Deanna. Some years ago there was a report that a biography of her was in the works but nothing ever came of it.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hope you both will enjoy seeing more Deanna Durbin films as much as I have! I am making up for lost time in recent months, and now that I'm watching her films I can really understand why she was so loved.

Irene, glad you were able to get BECAUSE OF HIM so quickly!

Best wishes,
Laura

1:28 PM  
Blogger texasoperastar said...

MAD ABOUT MUSIC was the very first Deanna Durbin movie I ever saw and from that day on I was a fan. Now I have seen all 21 of her movies, plus her one and only film with Judy Garland called EVERY SUNDAY (MGM). For those who want to read some trivia about MAD ABOUT MUSIC, just copy & paste the following link in your web browser:

http://www.deannadurbindevotees.com/movies-f1/mad-about-music-t50.htm

Best wishes always,

Alex (DDD).

3:56 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for your link, Alex! Always great to have another Durbin fan post comments here. :)

Best wishes,
Laura

9:23 AM  

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