Ruth Kirke (Deanna Durbin) is an American teacher raised in China by her missionary parents. When war forces Ruth to flee the country with eight orphans in tow, she must masquerade as THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY in order to assure the children entrance into the United States.
Wealthy Commodore Holliday (Harry Davenport) went down with the ship which was transporting Ruth and the children to safety, and Ruth is induced by the ship's surviving first mate (Barry Fitzgerald) to pretend she is the Commodore's widow and move the children into the Holliday mansion in San Francisco. There Ruth meets the Commodore's grandson, Tom Holliday (Edmond O'Brien). Will Ruth become Mrs. Holliday for real?
Given its subject matter, the film is more serious than the typical Durbin film. The flashback scenes in which Ruth describes how she and the children fled China -- and accepted the additional responsibility of a wounded Chinese woman's baby along the way -- are both harrowing and poignant. A sequence where the children, now safe in San Francisco, respond with terror to American planes overhead is likewise quite moving in its depiction of the war's impact on the young. Some of Deanna's songs in this film are lullabies she sings to the children, which are beautiful.
As always, Deanna Durbin is fresh and charming in the lead role. She gave very natural and unaffected performances which are quite unlike anyone else of the era. Her calm, quiet manner of speaking is just one of her unique qualities, while on the other hand she could also be quite funny. Deanna was very much an original.
Durbin and O'Brien make a good team; his immediate affection for the children who unexpectedly land on the Holliday doorstep is very appealing. In 1948 Durbin and O'Brien were reunited in FOR THE LOVE OF MARY, reviewed here.
While watching the movie, I reflected that films today just don't have the incredibly deep supporting casts, filled with recognizable faces, which were a hallmark of Hollywood's Golden Era. Besides Fitzgerald and Davenport, the supporting cast also includes Arthur Treacher (as, what else, a butler), Frieda Inescort, Grant Mitchell, Elisabeth Risdon, Esther Dale, Philip Ahn, Gus Schilling, Jonathan Hale, Irving Bacon, and George Chandler. Between them, Bacon and Chandler racked up over 950 credits! Add in Hale and you're up to around 1200 film and TV credits by just three of the actors who appeared in this film.
The children are all delightful. The best-known of the child actors is probably Christopher Severn, who played Toby Miniver in MRS. MINIVER (1942). His sister Yvonne also appears as one of the orphans. Christopher and Yvonne had six other siblings who were also child actors; the family did much of their work at MGM, where Christopher and Yvonne appeared with two of their siblings, Raymond and Ernest, in Spencer Tracy's A GUY NAMED JOE (1943). Later in the '40s, Ernest Severn played Robert Mitchum as a child in an excellent non-MGM film, PURSUED (1947). Billy Severn gave an especially notable performance as a war orphan rescued by Robert Young in MGM's JOURNEY FOR MARGARET (1942). The other Severn children were Clifford, Winston, and Venetia.
THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY was directed by Bruce Manning and an uncredited Jean Renoir. It was filmed in black and white and runs 96 minutes. The movie was Oscar-nominated for Best Musical Score for a Drama or Comedy.
This movie is available on video.
Links to more reviews of Deanna Durbin movies can be found at the bottom of my previous post on MAD ABOUT MUSIC (1938).
June 2012 Update: THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY is now available on DVD-R in the Universal Vault series.