Deanna Durbin's ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL is filled with beautiful music from the impressive opening credits, featuring Leopold Stokowski conducting a symphony orchestra, to the final strains of Durbin singing an excerpt from "La Traviata" as the film draws to a close.
The movie is a great example of the films produced by Joseph Pasternak and directed by Henry Koster, which exposed audiences of the '30s and '40s to memorable music, smoothly served by appealing personalities with plenty of comedy on the side.
This was Deanna's second big hit, the first being THREE SMART GIRLS (1936). It's quite remarkable that someone who had such little experience at that point in her career was such an assured performer. Deanna was just 15 years old when she made ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL. She handles both comedy and tears with ease, and of course she had an incomparable singing voice.
The Depression-era tale concerns a group of unemployed musicians, including Deanna's father (Adolphe Menjou). The long and the short of it is that it's suggested that the musicians form their own orchestra, and Deanna is determined that none other than the great Stokowski will conduct the orchestra's first concert, providing badly needed publicity. Obtaining financial support and Stowkowski's interest both prove to be far more challenging than initially expected.
It's not my favorite Durbin plot, as the Depression storyline tugs at the heartstrings for a prolonged time, but the somewhat Capra-esque plot has a rich emotional payoff. There's a moment near the end when there's a fantastic pullback shot as Stowkowski surveys the orchestra that's simply marvelous; to say more would spoil it. And of course, there's the music, and lots of it!
It's fun to note that half the cast of MY MAN GODFREY (1936) appears in the film; Mischa Auer plays a musician, while Eugene Pallette and Alice Brady are once again a pair of wacky, wealthy marrieds. Pallette and Brady's mansion is an Art Deco marvel.
Speaking of sets, I believe the theater set seen throughout the film was built for the silent THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925); it was reused many times over the decades, including for the 1943 PHANTOM remake. IMDb indicates that all three movies were filmed at Stage 28 at Universal Studios.
The cast includes Frank Jenks in a nice bit as a gruffly supportive cabbie. Billy Gilbert, Alma Kruger, and Charles Coleman are also in the cast. Perennial bit player Bess Flowers is prominently featured in a party scene. Leonid Kinskey, best known for CASABLANCA (1942), has a small role as a pianist accompanying Deanna at the same party.
My favorite musical piece was Deanna singing Mozart's "Alleluja," accompanied by Stowkoski and the orchestra. Her other songs include "A Heart That's Free" and "It's Raining Sunbeams."
The movie was shot in black and white and runs 84 minutes.
ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Original Story, Sound Recording, and Film Editing. It won the Oscar for Best Musical Score.
ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL has not had a DVD release in the United States. Hopefully that will be rectified before too long! It has been released in Europe on a Region 2 DVD.
It's also had a VHS release; the MCA/Universal video I watched was a fine print.
I only have five Durbin films left to see out of her 22 movies, a total which includes the short EVERY SUNDAY (1936), which costarred Judy Garland. Still ahead for me to see for the first time are SPRING PARADE (1940), CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), I'LL BE YOURS (1947), SOMETHING IN THE WIND (1947), and UP IN CENTRAL PARK (1948).
Links for reviews of all the Durbin films I've seen to date can be found in the birthday tribute I posted last December.
Deanna Durbin was one of the great talents of the movies who is not especially well known today, although she certainly has devoted fans among the classic film blogging community. For those who've never seen a Durbin film, how about adding IT STARTED WITH EVE (1941) to the Netflix queue? It's a wonderful comedy, costarring Charles Laughton and Robert Cummings, and the perfect introduction to Deanna Durbin.
November 2015 Update: ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL is now available on DVD in the Universal Vault Series.