That Certain Age (1938)
User ReviewsAdd a Review
Complications arise when Alice becomes infatuated with her parents' summer house guest, Vincent Bullitt, a renowned foreign correspondent in his 30s (played by Melvyn Douglas, who was 37 at the time to Deanna's 16), who works for her father (John Halliday), a newspaper publisher who seems to have way too much time on his hands. Alice decides that Bullitt needs her more than the show does and the show suffers accordingly--in the short run. Bullitt appears to be based on Vincent Sheean, a swashbuckling left-of-center journalist of the time whose autobiographical account of his own reporting adventures, "Personal History," had come out the previous year.
The problem with the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals was Mickey Rooney. Having re-watched the four films again a couple of years ago (BABES IN ARMS, BABES ON Broadway, STRIKE UP THE BAND, GIRL CRAZY), I was struck by how manic Rooney wasand desperately unfunny. Sure, he had a lot of energy and performing ability, but his characters in those films managed to come off quite abrasive at times and downright creepy at others. Poor Judy was overshadowed in each of them. (Fortunately, she was rescued by Arthur Freed's unit at MGM and placed in films worthy of her talent.) Unlike Rooney, Jackie Cooper doesn't sing or dance or try to be funny as Durbin's leading man, although he sometimes IS funny. He's got a straightforward manner and comes armed with abundant sincerity. He was about a year older than Deanna and plays her devoted friend, with secret romantic feelings, who is absolutely heartbroken when he learns how she feels about Mr. Bullitt. His gracious "best man won" concession speech to Bullitt is the older man's first inkling of Alice's infatuation and provokes some amusing comic reactions from Douglas. Cooper's lovelorn scenes are funny, but quite moving. This is, after all, the kid who made millions of grown men blubber like babies with his final scene in THE CHAMP (1931). He knows how to break your heart and does it without any tricks.
Deanna sings five or six times in the film, more than in most of the films of hers I've seen. Four songs are listed in the opening credits, all by the team of Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson: "My Own," "That Certain Age," "Be a Good Scout" and "You're as Pretty as a Picture." (The team also wrote songs for Durbin in MAD ABOUT MUSIC, also 1938.) Deanna also sings a couple of classical pieces from her lyric soprano repertoire, although those aren't listed in the credits. The title song is sung as a chorus under the opening credits and then reprised by the ensemble in the film's final minutes. Deanna never sings it solo, although I wish she'd had.
Deanna herself is a force of nature, a mesmerizing young star who dazzled us in exquisite closeups and whose every smile melted hearts. And she could sing beautifully, too. She is quite something and one can easily see why Universal Pictures bet the ranch on herand won! I won't claim that THAT CERTAIN AGE is a better musical than BABES IN ARMS, but I will say it's a better film and a more satisfying and often quite compelling piece of entertainment.
Ironically, Rooney and Durbin shared an Honorary Oscar that year. The citation was worded, "Special Award to Deanna Durbin and Mickey Rooney for their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement." The two films with Durbin that prompted the award were MAD ABOUT MUSIC and THAT CERTAIN AGE. (I don't know what Rooney films they were thinking of.) Universal eventually came up with its own answer to the Rooney-Garland films in a series of musicals with Donald O'Connor and Peggy Ryan in the early 1940s, including TOP MAN and THE MERRY MONAHANS. If only those films would come out in a DVD box set.
Jackie Cooper gives a superior performance as the best friend who loves Alice and has to watch her chase after the older, successful and glamorous man of the world. Melvyn Douglas is good as Vincent Bullitt but his character is slightly bland, at least for someone who's supposed to be such an adventurer.
The plot is okay if not especially surprising; it's a sympathetic look at young love that tries to represent the viewpoints of both the kids involved and the parents and other grownups around them. It doesn't entirely workthis is one of those pictures where all the adults are so darn wise and well-meaning it's just kind of irritating. The kidsDurbin, Cooper, even little Juanita Quigley as the pesty little sistercome across as much more genuine.
Deanna sings a few songsa couple of operatic numbers that are fine as well as a handful of new songs that are pleasant but no classics. Durbin's acting performance, however, is superbshe is totally convincing, as is Jackie Cooper, himself an old pro at age 16. Durbin and Cooper certainly leave the grown up actors in the dust.
Definitely worthwhile for fans of these young stars.
Research question: Did everybody really know Morse code in the 1930s, or was it just kids in the movies?
Songs: "My Own" (Durbin); "That Certain Age" (Durbin); "Be a Good Scout" (Durbin); "You're As Pretty As a Picture" (Durbin); "Has Anybody Ever Told You Before?" (Durbin), all by Jimmy McHugh (music) and Harold Adamson (lyrics). "Juliet's Waltz Song"/"Je Veux Vivre Dans Ce Reve" (Durbin) from Romeo and Juliet by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre (lyrics) and Charles-Francois Gounod (music). "Les Filles de Cadiz" (Durbin) by Alfred de Musset (lyrics) and Leo Delibes (music). Vocal supervisor: Charles Henderson. Music orchestrated by Frank Skinner, directed by Charles Previn.
Copyright 13 October 1938 by Universal Pictures Co., Inc. New York opening at the Roxy, 4 November 1938 (ran 2 weeks). U.S. release: 7 October 1938. Australian release: 29 December 1938. 11 reels. 100 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Teenager gets crush on globetrotting reporter.
NOTES: Academy Award, Deanna Durbin, "for her significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as a juvenile player setting a high standard of ability and achievement". (See also Mad About Music). "My Own" was nominated for Best Song (lost to "Thanks for the Memory" from The Big Broadcast of 1938). The Sound Recording was also nominated (The Cowboy and the Lady).
COMMENT: Hardly the sort of scathing satire we would expect from Brackett and Wilder (earlier in the year they had screenplayed Bluebeard's Eighth Wife for Lubitsch), this is a rather dull and all-too-regrettably predictable teapot comedy without a smidgen of the customary Wilder wit and Brackett sparkle.
In addition to its thin, foregone plot, the picture is further saddled with Master Jackie Cooper, the most obnoxiously hammy, aggressively self-centered juvenile in the cinema. We don't blame Miss Durbin for preferring Mr Douglas, but the older man is forced by the plot conventions of 1938 to spurn her advances and re-unite her with the odious Cooper.
The only thing we like about this tiresome plot is that it provides an opportunity to introduce the lovely Nancy Carroll, here making her last movie appearance before returning (permanently as it turned out) to the stage (and later television).
Fortunately, Deanna Durbin is not only unfazed by the ho-hum turns of the plot, but manages to positively project her pleasing personality come-what-may. She's in fine singing voice too.
The support cast includes such able players as John Halliday and Charles Coleman, masters at spinning winning pleasantries from the most threadbare dialogue.
As we might expect, the picture is beautifully produced, with lustrous photography and pleasing sets. Ludwig's direction takes full advantage of the architecture, but does little or nothing to lend pace or interest to that milk-and-water script.