Durbin and Laughton have a ball in... It Started with Eve (1941)

A newspaper editor gleefully awaits the big news of the death of billionaire Jonathan Reynolds (Charles Laughton), a story that is sure to feed the paper for weeks. While he impatiently grumbles about the old man delaying the inevitable, in a dark, quiet mansion, the great Mr. Reynolds lies on his deathbed, weakly telling his son, Johnny (Bob Cummings), that he wants to meet his fiancee before it's too late. Desperate to fulfill his father's wish, Johnny hurries to his hotel to get his fiancee, Gloria,
who went out and can't be found. Who is found, however, is hatcheck girl Anne (Deanna Durbin) -- Johnny whisks her away to the house to pretend to be Gloria in order to make his father happy one last time. Feeble but still with a twinkle in his eye, Reynolds is delighted that Johnny has picked such a beautiful woman, her eyes filling with tears as he holds her hand and whispers "Don't cry, dear, there's nothing to be sorry for. I had a good life. I didn't miss anything. I've never been happier than I am
right now." The doctor tells Anne and Johnny it's time they leave, Anne gently letting go of his hand. Johnny thanks her for what she did and pays her $50, Anne confessing that she shouldn't take it but she really needs the money to pay off her singing lessons and go back home to Shelbyville, Ohio. The two said goodbye, Johnny going back to worry by his father's bed and Anne going back into the depressing, rainy night.


Yes, that's how this bubbly romantic comedy starts, with an atmosphere of loss and gloom. But let me tell you, it quickly reminds you that you are indeed watching a Deanna Durbin confection, a sweet, funny, and musical affair. While everyone expects Reynolds to pass away that night, they're all surprised when he wakes up the next morning with his old verve for life. Johnny is thrilled, until his father utters two troublesome words: "Where's Gloria?" What to do now? If he introduces the real Gloria, will his father's health decline again? Is his sudden appetite and liveliness just a fluke? If it is, shouldn't he keep his dad happy by using Anne's services again? Panicked, Johnny takes Anne off of her Ohio-bound train and begs for her help again. She really doesn't want to, but the old man was such a sweetheart the night before, she can't resist. Johnny coaches her on things Gloria would know, such as the two years she spent in Spain, and it doesn't take long before Reynolds absolutely adores Anne. The more time they spend together, the better his health gets.

Anne feels bad about tricking Reynolds, but when she realizes he could use his connections to make her dreams of being a singer come true, she continues the charade. This interferes with Johnny's plan to "break up" with Anne and then introduce Gloria as his new girlfriend. Overhearing a heated conversation between his son and Anne, Reynolds learns the truth and is heartbroken, but he loves Anne so he acts as though he's still in the dark. On the night of a party he's throwing in
Anne's honor so she can sing for a famous conductor, Anne's conscience gets to her and she decides to skip the party and return to Ohio. Reynolds admits he's wise to their scheme, but he knows that Johnny and Anne belong together so he cooks up his own scheme. He fakes a return of his illness, causing Johnny to once again grab Anne off of a train and rush her to the house, where they're reunited for good.

It Started with Eve is a fantastically charming film, one that is held entirely on the shoulders of Deanna Durbin and Charles Laughton. I'm probably going to be lynched for this, but I've never really jumped on the Laughton bandwagon. That's not to say that I think he was a bad actor or anything -- he was clearly an amazing one, but I would never call him a favorite, nor would I ever watch a film because his name was attached to it. It Started with Eve hasn't exactly changed that, however I do appreciate
the actor more and I have to admit that this film has my favorite performance of his. Laughton is loose, wily, and hilarious; it's a role I could see John Barrymore excelling in, similar to Midnight. Ever the dedicated actor, Laughton lost 40 pounds to convincingly portray a man who has been confined to his bed for months. One of the best sight gags is Reynolds's baggy clothes once he's gotten healthier, Laughton muttering to himself how ridiculous he looks.

Of course, being a superb dramatic actor, he excels in the quieter, more somber moments as well. The tenderness with which he treats Durbin is incredibly touching -- I actually cry at one scene. Anne and Johnny agree that she shouldn't attend her party, but when she tells Reynolds on the phone that she has a headache and can't come, he insists that he'll come visit her until she forcefully declares that she never wants to see him again. Hurt, Reynolds goes to see her anyway and is saddened to learn
that she's leaving for Ohio in the morning ("You were going to go away without saying goodbye?"). She sings one more time for him, and while she does, tears fall down her face and he silently listens. Before it gets too mushy, though, Reynolds takes Anne out on the town for a proper goodbye, leading to a great moment for the audience: Charles Laughton dancing the conga. For some silly reason, this is nowhere to be found on the interwebs, so I can only provide you with photos at post's end.

While Laughton certainly gives the young songstress a run for her money, Ms. Durbin is without a question the film's star. And not just because she's given three numbers to sing, although they're definitely great, simple routines, my favorite being "When I Sing." (The music for this song came from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet, but if you're a Disney fan, you'll recognize it as "Once Upon a Dream" with different lyrics.) I enjoy Deanna's acting more than I do her singing,
though. Man, I keep going against the grain here -- what a rebel. My defense is that operatic singing like Deanna's is not my style, while intelligent, cheeky brunettes who aren't afraid to bite their leading men are more my speed. That's right, Durbin bites Bob Cummings, and it is glorious. Johnny thinks he's gotten rid of Anne, telling his father some story about how they got into a huge fight and broke things off. She doesn't want to miss her chance to become a singer, though, so suddenly, Anne runs
into the house, apologizing profusely to Johnny and begging him to forgive her. She then pretends to loudly sob to drown him out, and voila, they're a "couple" again. Reynolds encourages his son to literally kiss and make up, Johnny taking his revenge by planting a long kiss on Anne. If you pay close attention, she fights against the kiss, then softens as she begins to enjoy it, and then goes back to struggling. Pissed, she bites his ear. He retaliates by biting her ear. Tickling and pinching ensues.
When Reynolds leaves the room to find a cigar, Anne chomps down on Johnny's hand and he chases her around the room. They're fighting around the piano when Reynolds returns, causing them to seamlessly pretend like Anne had been playing for Johnny this whole time. Anne offers to preview the number she's going to do for her party and subsequently amazes Johnny with "Clavelitos," a Spanish-language piece that has --wait for it -- 157 words a minute! It's a great, great number, one
that I shamefully couldn't find online. This is the first time Johnny hears Anne sing and he's naturally enchanted, his anger towards her melting as he listens to her. (It helps when you have a halo of light around your head, illuminating your hair and face like an angel with sparkling eyes. Ah, the movies.) What's hilarious about this is that Johnny still has Anne's lipstick all over his face from their big smooch, so while she's looking gorgeous, he looks like, well, an idiot. Reynolds notices his son's change of
feelings and his eyes go back and forth between the twosome. Although he was devastated just seconds before when he heard them talk about deceiving him, Reynolds realizes that their act has gone further than either of them have recognized. Without saying a word, the film has shown us major narrative and character development, while also cluing us in that Reynolds's actions from now on will be about bringing Johnny and Anne together. I love finding this stuff in supposedly lightweight fare.

I know a lot of people dismiss Bob Cummings, tossing around words like "bland" and "stiff," but I rather enjoy him. He's a reliable, steady presence, and with the right material he could do well. I think his stuff with Hitchcock, Saboteur and Dial M for Murder, allowed for maybe his best performances. I don't know, I hear everyone kick the guy's name to death and I just feel sorry for him. He wasn't that bad (hey, he wasn't George Brent -- yeah, I said it), and in comedies like this
and Moon Over Miami he does very nicely. I would say that he was one of Deanna Durbin's best screen partners, alongside David Bruce and Franchot Tone. Before Eve, they had starred together in Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939) and Spring Parade (1940), and they were good friends off the screen too. During filming of their scenes, they would try to break each other up by doing silly faces or Cummings would only look at her left eye, causing her to exclaim "I can't
stand the way he looks at me. It makes me feel one-sided!" For a weekend amidst filming, Durbin and her new husband Vaughn Paul stayed at Cummings's home with he and his wife, Vivien. Coming into work on the following Monday, Durbin said she couldn't sing because she was so sore from laughing all weekend. Durbin was also chummy with Laughton, working with him one more time on 1946's Because of Him and remaining his friend until his death in 1962.

It Started with Eve is available on DVD separately and as part of the Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack, a collection I can't recommend enough. If you want to see more of Durbin and Cummings together, you can check out Spring Parade on YouTube here -- it's not the best quality, but the film isn't on DVD, so it'll do. Enjoy!
























With love,
Michaela

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This is part of the O Canada Blogathon, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. For the other entries celebrating Canadian imports like Deanna Durbin, Canada-set films, and actual Canadian productions, click here.

Comments

  1. This sounds absolutely wonderful! What a charming premise – and what a fab cast!

    You know, I've never seen a grown-up Deanna Durbin in a film, and this sounds like it's not to be missed!

    Thank you for joining the blogathon, and for bringing Deanna and Co. with you!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for having me! I adore grown-up Deanna -- she was quite the sassy one! I've seen very little of her child star roles, having only watched Three Smart Girls, which I found annoying except for Durbin and Ray Milland. I wish her films weren't so hard to find on DVD. Just another reason to consider buying a region-free DVD player, I guess.

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  2. I love Deanna Durbin (in anything) and this movie in particular. I've written about Durbin in two consecutive O Canada blogathons now and I'm planning my third. Durbin is such a natural actress that she's hard to resist. And I agree with you about Robert Cummings. He's great here. His comic timing and physical comedy is perfect. I've never understood the Cummings haters. So glad you highlighted this favorite. I have the Sweetheart Pack and The Music and Romance Collection. Both are worth collecting. Thanks again for keeping the Deanna Durbin love alive!

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    1. I'm only too happy to spread the Durbin love! I'll have to go check out your past blogathon entries, and I'll certainly look into that Music and Romance Collection. It's nice to hear that someone else appreciates Bob Cummings. I just saw him in one of the last episodes of I Love Lucy and he was fantastic -- comedies were really his strength, I think. Thanks for reading!

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  3. Love Deanna, love to see her featured in this blogathon especially as one of the premier Canadian musical talents, and I love this movie. Thanks so much for joining us!

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    1. You're welcome! This is one of my favorites from her and I was thrilled to write about it.

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  4. I'm with you in the Bob Cummings camp. I think his comedic abilities are so natural that they are unappreciated. I love Deanna's acting as much as her singing, and I find her singing thrilling.

    I hope you give Laughton more of a chance to claim a spot on your "favourite" list. I think he's tops, and in "It Started With Eve" he is the cutest old millionaire ever! He outdoes Charles Coburn and Edmund Gwenn in the adorable senior department.

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    Replies
    1. I'm sure if I give him more time, Laughton will become a favorite. I really don't have anything against him, it's just the way I feel... for now. Glad to hear there's another Cummings fan out there! He and Durbin were such a natural, easygoing pair. Thanks for reading!

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  5. Nice review. I used to feel the same way about Laughton, but his performance in Witness for the Prosecution won me over. I'm definitely going to look up It Started with Eve. Thanks for posting.

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    1. It was my pleasure. I've seen Witness for the Prosecution, and while I really like it, including Laughton and Lanchester, I enjoy it more for the dynamic performances from Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich. Like I said, maybe I'll learn to love Laughton in a few years. Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. Loved your review of this film. It's a real charmer, and I enjoyed it when I watched it a couple years ago when tcm aired it. My mother-in-law watched it with me too and loved it. I too like Bob Cummings-he's much livelier than George Brent-I agree!!!

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    Replies
    1. I feel kind of bad that I always use George Brent as a punching bag, but then I watch him again and it just confirms my annoyance. This was the guy that Bette Davis fell in love with? Anyway, glad to hear you enjoy this film! Thanks for visiting!

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