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This is a heartwarming and feel good film! Deanna Durbin is really great with her singing of the title number as well as other good songs! "That Certain Age" received two Oscar nominations in the musical category. The story is about a well to do family headed by a newspaper magnate who invites one of his reporters to his expansive estate to stay in the guest house behind their mansion. Durbin and her friends are rehearsing for a show that they are going to put on at the theatre in town and of course, they are using the guest house for their rehearsals. When they get word that this distinguished reporter is coming to visit to work on some articles, they don't like it and Durbin decides they will all pull some shenanigans to make him want to leave. Only one problem, the love bug bites Durbin and she is smitten by the older man. She becomes so enamored that she ignores the show and her friends and even her boyfriend. The reporter now has the task of setting her straight but that isn't going to be that easy to do! If you are a Deanna Durbin fan or a Melvyn Douglas fan, this film is one you won't want to miss! The rest of the cast is great too! Some really good laughs!
It's quite possible that the teen musical genre began with THAT CERTAIN
AGE (1938), Deanna Durbin's fourth starring role in two years and the
first to feature a large cast of supporting teens. It certainly seems
to have been the precursor of the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland-"Let's put
on a show" brand of musical that burst forth from MGM the following
year with BABES IN ARMS (1939). Here, the kids, based in an affluent
community in Mount Kisco, New York, are indeed putting on a show, with
local rich girl Alice Fullerton (Durbin) in the lead role ("Lady Iris")
and her sort-of boyfriend, Ken Warren (Jackie Cooper), a Senior Patrol
Leader in the local Boy Scout troop, serving as director. The
production they create is an elaborate operatic-type show with a
"Carmen"-like theme, at least as far as we can tell from the few
tantalizing bits offered.
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.
Deanna Durbin is excellent as bright and talented rich girl Alice
Fullerton. She and her pal Ken (Jackie Cooper) put on musical plays in
the guest house of her parents' estate. Alice's newspaper mogul father
invites journalist Vincent Bullitt (Melvyn Douglas) to stay and work in
said guest houseand Alice is quickly distracted from her friends by
the romantic and dashing Mr. Bullitt.
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?
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