Sunday, March 14, 2010

1937 - One Hundred Men and a Girl

Don't forget to vote (in the poll on the right) for the next year to be covered in Matt vs. the Academy. Still plenty of time as we reach the halfway point of the 1937 review. Speaking of which, the film at the centre of discussion today has proven to be a hard find. Despite being available on DVD in most overseas markets, it has never had a DVD release in the United States. Fortunately, though, the New York Public Library boasts two copies on VHS, according to their online database. I'd need to purchase a VCR, but at least I'd be able to watch it. After putting one of those copies on hold, I waited to be notified of its availability. Two weeks later, I contacted the library to ask of its whereabouts, only to be told that it was last seen well over a month ago and there appears to be no sign of it. What about the second copy? Oh, that one was lost a long time ago and it shouldn't even be in the system at all. Fantastic. A quick Google search and eBay comes to the rescue. Someone in California is selling a DVD import brand new. Problem solved. And I don't even need to buy a VCR. I probably should have started there.

So, after that adventure, yesterday Kat and I spent a rainy day inside watching this 1937 Best Picture nominee...

One Hundred Men and a Girl
Henry Koster
Bruce Manning, Charles Kenyon & James Mulhauser
(based on an idea by Hanns Kräly)
Deanna Durbin, Leopold Stokowski, Adolphe Menjou, Alice Brady
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
1 win, for Best Original Score

Despite its porn-sounding title, One Hundred Men and a Girl is not the least bit filthy. In fact, it is a charmingly innocent comedy-musical about Patsy (Durbin), a girl whose trombonist father (Menjou) is desperately unemployed. With a stroke of luck, Patsy stumbles upon a rich woman (Brady) who promises to sponsor the formation of a new orchestra. Patsy assembles one hundred out-of-work musicians, including her father, but the sponsorship deal will fall through unless she can get famous conductor Leopold Stokowski to join the team.

This pleasant and winsome picture is thoroughly enjoyable and it is difficult to understand why it has been all but forgotten. It sports a wonderfully chipper attitude, evident in such songs as "It's Raining Sunbeams", which may sound sickly sweet, and ... well, quite frankly, it is, but somehow it's not too nauseating. Probably due to Deanna Durbin's exquisite singing voice, made all the more impressive considering she was only sixteen when the film was made.

Not only does the story revolve around a symphony orchestra, but it also heavily features Stokowski, an actual conductor of notoriety. Hence, there are inevitably several scenes in which we are treated to orchestral performances of classical music. At times, it may seem like overkill, but these sequences are cleverly staged and edited to avoid tedium. In fact, there is invariably something else going on while the orchestra is playing, so the story is always moving forward. Besides, it is remarkably elegant music, after all.

The heart of the picture's entertainment, though, is the humour. The cast of genuinely funny characters create a comedy of errors that retains its humour even today. Seemingly, naiveté never goes out of comedy style. There's a singing cabbie, a happy-go-lucky flautist, an easily excited upper-class lady. My favourite, however, is the slow-witted but insistent garage owner, who utters such gems as, "You call me a shutup? You can't call me a shutup?" and "I don't know nothing from arismesticks."

Adolphe Menjou provides the heart as the down-and-out musician, a starkly different persona from the arrogant producer he plays in fellow 1937 nominee Stage Door. It is clear that acting is not Leopold Stokowski's first talent, but he manages to hold his own. And for a sixteen-year-old, Deanna Durbin displays a great deal of maturity in her performance. All in all, One Hundred Men and a Girl is a wonderfully entertaining way to spend an hour and a half on a rainy day.


  1. I didn't think I'd get to see One Hundred Men and a Girl, but YouTube came to the rescue.

    This is a Capraesque, depression-era putting-on-a-show musical starring plucky Deanna Durbin. For some reason, I'd never seen any of her films before (she quit Hollywood around 1950). She's remarkably similar to a young Judy Garland in acting style, although their singing voices are quite different. Durbin's operatic voice probably wouldn't have worked for The Wizard of Oz.

    Eugene Pallette and Alice Brady once again played society rich husband and ditsy wife as they did in My Man Godfrey. However in this film they weren't together in most of their scenes. Flamboyant conductor Leopold Stokowski helped popularize classical music (he followed this film with Fantasia). That mantle would be taken over by Leonard Bernstein in the 1950s.

    On Hundered Men and a Girl is perhaps a surprise nominee, but a fun and entertaining addition to a slate of films in 1937 that showcased the diversity of Hollywood.

    1. This movie was not necessarily a surprise nominee to the general public at the time. It had the third best box office receipts for all films released in 1937.

  2. As a first Deanna Durbin viewing this was a particular treat. She has such grace as an Actress and when she sings, and I was incredibly impressed with how well she handled the character at a very young age. So much so that I prefer her to Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth, which is high praise indeed.

  3. A treat indeed. I guess my assumption was that, because the film was so hard to find, there must have been a reason it was so forgotten. A completely unfounded assumption, I now see.

  4. Deanna was only 15 when 100 MEN AND A GIRL was filmed. (She would turn 16 in December '37.) Unlike Garland, Rooney, Temple and other notable child star contemporaries, she was not a "professional kid" with years of prior professional training/performing experience before making her film debut, and had to learn to act as the whold world watched her grow up onscreen, but I think her poise and talent, as evidenced in this film, are remarkable. As film historian David Shipan observed of her performance: "That a 15 year-old child should have had such a clarity in singing and masterly musicianship is remarkable, but combined with a similar instinct for acting, is nothing short of miraculous."

  5. Right you are. 15 she was. I've fired my fact checker :) She is indeed remarkable (Deanna, not my fact checker). A very mature performance for such a young woman.

  6. As Deanna herself said years later in a letter to her fan club: "December birthdays can be deceptive." Although she was awarded a Special Juvenile Oscar in 1939 as "a Juvenile Player Setting a High Level of Ability and Achievement," when 100 MEN AND A GIRL was released there was a good deal of criticism in the press for the Academy's failure to give her a "Best Actress" nomination for this performance.

  7. I saw this movie on TCM one night and fell in love with it. I am trying to find a copy for my sister because I know she would love it too, but I can't find it anywhere. Are there any legal copies on DVD? Is the studio that produced it ever planning on releasing it? Does anyone know?

    1. Go on amazon AU. for the dvd. it will play on US dvd players.

  8. It's available on VHS, that's for sure. And outside of the US, you can get it on DVD. I found my DVD import on eBay, so you could try there or on Amazon. Just be sure it's a region-free version.