The DVD Report #677

It Started with Eve is the jewel in the crown of Kino Lorber’s Deanna Durbin Collection I containing the first three of nine planned Blu-ray upgrades of the 1938 Oscar winner’s classic films.

Durbin first came to attention at the age of 14 in the 1936 short Every Sunday with Judy Garland. When MGM decided to keep Garland and let Durbin go, Universal immediately signed her to a contract and starred her in 1936’s Three Smart Girls and 1937’s 100 Men and a Girl which were huge hits. Both were nominated for Best Picture Oscars, the former losing to MGM’s The Great Ziegfeld and the latter to Warner Bros. The Life of Emile Zola. Thanks to the success of 1938’s Mad About Music and That Certain Age, Durbin was given an honorary Oscar for her juvenile performances, an honor she shared with Mickey Rooney whose films that year included Boys Town. Garland would win the following year, the year of The Wizard of Oz.

Robert Stack gave Durbin her highly publicized first on-screen kiss in 1939’s First Love when she was 17. By 1941, she was tired of playing innocent young girls and wanted a role that would make her seem less naïve. To prove that she was all grown up at 19, she shocked everyone by marrying Vaughn Paul, a 35-year-old second unit director on two of her previous films, during the filming of It Started with Eve.

The film, which was produced by Joe Pasternak (In the Good Old Summertime) and directed Henry Koster (The Bishop’s Wife) who had produced and directed all her Universal films up to that point. It had a screenplay by Norman Krasna (The Devil and Miss Jones) and Leo Townsend (Night and Day) and was photographed by Rudolph Maté (Foreign Correspondent). Durbin never looked lovelier.

The story of It Started with Eve is a bit of nonsense about the playboy son (Robert Cummings) of a dying industrialist (Charles Laughton) promising his father on his deathbed that he will introduce him to his fiancée before he dies. Unable to find the woman who is out shopping with her mother, Cummings offers Durbin, a hatcheck girl in the restaurant at his fiancée’s hotel, $50 to impersonate the fiancée so that his father can die peacefully. He miraculously recovers and the rest of the film revolves around the mistaken identity theme and Durbin’s chance to sing for Leopold Stokowski at a party Laughton is planning to give in her honor.

This was the only time that another actor was given a role larger than Durbin in one of her films. It’s Laughton, not Durbin, who dominates the film, though even he keeps still when Durbin sings. Cummings, who was also filming Kings Row at the same time, has much less screen time than his legendary co-stars. Although his character and Durbin’s get together at the end, the film is really a love story between Durbin and Laugthon’s character.

The other two film in the collection are the afore-mentioned 1937 musical 100 Men and a Girl, co-starring Adolphe Menjou as Durbin’s out-of-work musician father, and Three Smart Girls Grow Up, the 1939 sequel to Three Smart Girls. Nan Grey and Helen Parrish are her sisters and Robert Cummings is the pianist Durbin tries to hook up with one of them, although she isn’t sure which it should be. Charles Winninger is the girls’ father, Nella Walker their mother, and William Lundigan the other man who comes between the sisters.

When the Daltons Rode, The Virginian, and Whispering Smith, the three Universal films that comprise Kino Lorber’s Western Classics I, make an odd bunch. All three look their best on Blu-ray but they are not really classics.

1940’s When the Daltons Rode was made due to the success of Fox’s 1939 film Jesse James with Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda as his brother Frank, the first of the films in which outlaws were portrayed as a hero. It was directed by George Marshall, who directed Universal’s own 1939 western classic Destry Rides Again with Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart. For good measure it features George Bancroft as the villain and Andy Devine as the comic relief, both from John Ford’s 1939 classic Stagecoach with John Wayne and Claire Trevor. For good measure, it’s made in the fast action style of a fourth 1939 western classic Dodge City with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.

Nominal leads Randolph Scott and Kay Francis exist outside of the action. He’s a land agent and she’s the girlfriend of one of the Daltons. The brothers themselves are played by Broderick Crawford, Brian Donlevy, Stuart Erwin, and Frank Albertson, none of whom were stars at the time. Crawford comes off best in his biggest success prior to his Oscar-winning role in 1949’s All the King’s Men. A big hit at the time, the film’s fall into obscurity is no accident.

1946’s The Virginian is the third version of the venerable classic, the first since the 1929 megahit with Joel McCrea, Brian Donlevy, Sonny Tufts, and Barbara Britton in the roles immortalized by Gary Cooper, Walter Huston, Richard Arlen, and Mary Brian in the 1929 gem. This color version looks great, but I wish they would restore and release the 1929 version.

The worst aspect of this release is the ludicrous commentary by actress and self-described film historian Rutanya Alda. She met McCrea as a little girl. He was making another film, and was very grumpy but his films were good, she proclaims. She compares him to Gary Cooper without ever explaining that he has the Cooper role in the version she’s supposed to be talking about. She also shares that she “discovered” another actress in this film, one Fay Bainter. She is amazed to find that Bainter was an Oscar winner with a resumé of great films including Make Way for Tomorrow in which she played Katharine Hepburn’s sister. Nope, that was Quality Street. She also claims that Bainter’s double Oscar nod for Best Actress in White Banners and Jezebel, for which she won, resulted in a rule change. Nope, the rule change was after Barry Fitzgerald’s double nod for the same role in 1944’s Going My Way. Actors are still allowed to be nominated in both leading and supporting roles in the same year in different films.

1948’s Whispering Smith was Alan Ladd’s first starring role in a western in which he co-stars with Robert Preston, Brenda Marshall, and Donald Crisp. Again, the worst aspect of this release is the commentary provided by film critic and author Simon Abrams who talks incessantly about a minor character in the film who had a much bigger role in the 1905 novel on which the film is based. He also complains, not once, but twice, that he wishes he could wear a cravat like Alan Ladd does.

Of the three films that comprise Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema III, the best known is 1949’s The Lady Gambles with Barbara Stanwyck, but 1949’s Abandoned with Dennis O’Keefe and Gale Storm and 1950’s The Sleeping City with Richard Conte and Coleen Gray are more fun and well worth a tumble. All three films look stunning on Blu-ray in shimmering black-and-white.

This week’s new releases include Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment and Isadora.

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