Monday, August 01, 2016

Tonight's Movie: It's a Date (1940) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

IT'S A DATE (1940), previously available only on VHS, was one of the last few Deanna Durbin films not available on DVD in the United States. Happily it's now on DVD thanks to the Warner Archive.

IT'S A DATE, which I first reviewed in 2009, is a Universal Pictures film. Although the Warner Archive doesn't usually release Universal films, my source confirmed that the Archive was able to release IT'S A DATE because MGM acquired the rights when it was remade with Jane Powell in NANCY GOES TO RIO (1950), and the Archive does have the rights to release MGM's films.

Deanna stars as effervescent Pamela Drake, an aspiring actress whose mother Georgia (Kay Francis) is a famous Broadway star.

Pam has the thrill of a lifetime when a famous Broadway director (Samuel S. Hinds) and playwright (S.Z. Sakall) offer her a wonderful role in a new play...until she realizes her own mother -- who is actually too old for the role -- thinks she has a lock on the part herself.

Meanwhile Pam thinks that John Arlen (Walter Pidgeon), whom she met on a boat while traveling to meet her mother in Honolulu, is in love with her, but he's actually become attracted to her more age-appropriate mother. No one will be surprised that eventually the Broadway role and the romance are straightened out happily for all concerned.

This isn't top tier Durbin, in part due to the plot, but it's nonetheless a lot of fun, and there are many special moments. One of my favorite scenes, seen in this still, is of Deanna singing "Love is All" while curled up with her mother on the sofa. Francis wordlessly conveys being deeply moved by her daughter's singing.

There's another gorgeous scene in which Hinds and Sakall react emotionally to Deanna singing "Loch Lomond." She has that effect on people! Deanna also has the chance to sing "Ave Maria."

In some of Deanna's films she's a bit of a pill, which is offset by the goodwill viewers have for the actress; here her Pam is confident and a bit pushy, but perhaps a more thoughtful and likeable character than some she played, deeply concerned for her mother's feelings.

Francis looks as glamorous as ever, in gowns by Vera West. Deanna, of course, was billed above the title, but it seemed a bit sad that Francis, such a huge star at Warner Bros. over the previous decade, didn't even rate an "Also Starring" billing after the title. She's simply billed as "With," at the head of a list with the names of several actors.

While Francis's career was dwindling down, Walter Pidgeon was headed up. A leading role in a Deanna Durbin film was great exposure; over the next couple of years his career reached new heights with films like MAN HUNT (1941), HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941), MRS. MINIVER (1942), and MADAME CURIE (1943), with Oscar nominations for the latter two films.

Incidentally, Pidgeon was a fine singer, and it would have been nice if he'd been able to do a bit of singing in this!

Deanna Durbin films always boast excellent supporting casts, and this one is no exception. Henry Stephenson is a delight as the ship's captain, and the cast also includes Eugene Pallette, Cecilia Loftus, and Fritz Feld.

IT'S A DATE was directed by William A. Seiter and filmed in black and white by Joseph Valentine. It runs 103 minutes.

As Warner Archive DVD prints go, it must be admitted that this one is pretty rough. Some scenes look terrific, but others are lined and scratched, and there are even a couple brief skips. We've been delightfully spoiled by the Archive being able to remaster and improve so many prints in recent years, so it was a disappointment in that regard. However, after wanting to own this film on DVD for so many years, I must say I'm thrilled to have it in any condition, and I suspect my fellow Durbin fans will feel the same way.

There are no extras.

Now if Durbin fans could only buy Region 1 DVDs of SPRING PARADE (1940), HIS BUTLER'S SISTER (1943), HERS TO HOLD (1943), and CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944)...

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of Deanna's I've never seen. Thanks for your fine review. I can't help but agree with your description of Deanna's Young character being a 'pill' sometimes. I wanted to shake the writers!
A shame indeed about Kay Francis's status.
Oh, yes, a song from Mr.Pidgeon would have been a treat.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Definitely worth seeing -- but then all Deanna's movies are. :)

I found Francis (and Pidgeon's) billing on same page as rest of cast especially curious as they had such large roles. They should have at least shared a card together after title, and then the rest of the cast. I don't often notice such things but it seemed odd to me!

Best wishes,

9:36 AM  

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