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IT STARTED WITH EVE (Universal, 1941), directed by Henry Koster, stars
popular singer Deanna Durbin in one of her finest movie roles. Not
quite a Biblical tale about Adam and Eve and the apple as the title
might imply, nor is there any character in the story named Eve, but
actually a comedy of errors in the screwball comedy tradition providing
Durbin, still in her late teenage years, an opportunity in a more adult
performance, with fine support by the diverse Charles Laughton in a
character role that's both funny and touching, and Robert Cummings as a
young man caught in the middle of a series of situations and having a
difficult time coming up with a suitable explanations.
The scenario revolves around Jonathan Reynolds (Charles Laughton) a middle-aged millionaire on his death bed whose final request is to meet the young lady engaged to his son, Johnny (Robert Cummings). To make his father's last days on Earth a pleasant one, Johnny rushes out into the rain to get his fiancé only to learn from the desk clerk that she and her mother are not available. Not wanting to waste any more valuable time, Johnny encounters a hat check girl (Deanna Durbin) and offers her $50 to return home with him and pose as his fiancée for about an hour. Explaining the circumstances at hand, she agrees. Masquerading as "Gloria Pennington," the girl, Anne Terry, meets the ailing Mr. Reynolds, who takes an immediate liking to her. After their union, the old man finds his son to be in good hands, and can now die in peace. The following morning, Jonathan miraculously recovers from his illness, gets out of bed demanding a large breakfast from his servants and for Johnny to bring "Gloria" back to visit with him. Complications ensue when Johnny not only has to locate Anne, who's about to take the next train back home to Shelbyville, Ohio, but to explain to the real Gloria (Margaret Tallichet) and her mother (Catherine Doucet), having returned from their trip, the situation that has occurred. Things become even more complex when Johnny tries to prevent his father from learning Anne not to be his fiancée, and keeping Anne from attending his father's dinner function where she wants to audition for his theatrical agent friends in hope to land a singing career.
A highly enjoyable comedy with an original premise done at a leisurely pace with a couple of classical songs thrown in for good measure making use of Deanna Durbin's singing talent, including Peter Tchaikowsky's "The Tchaikowsky Waltz" and Antonin Dvorak's "Going Home." Supporting players consist of Guy Kibbee as Bishop Maxwell; Walter Catlett as Dr. Harvey, the nervous family physician; Dorothea Kent as Jackie Donovan, Anne's roommate; Clara Blandick as The Nurse; and comedian Mantan Moreland adding humor as the harassed train station baggage man.
Obviously a high point in Durbin's career that did very well at box office, it's interesting to note that a fun movie such as this is not relatively better known. Durbin and Cummings do well in the roles that might have been tailer-made for Irene Dunne and Cary Grant for example. However, the characters of Anne Terry and Johnny Reynolds were obviously written for much younger performers as enacted by Durbin and Cummings.
IT STARTED WITH EVE did play for a while on American Movie Classics (1992-93) about the same time it was distributed on video cassette by MCA Home Video. The Hans Kraly story was redone by Universal as I'D RATHER BE RICH (1964) featuring Sandra Dee, Robert Goulet and Maurice Chevalier, with a few alterations, but like the original, has been lost to cinema history, known mostly by film scholars and historians. Even with the original currently available on DVD and latter cable broadcast on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 30, 3013) might offer IT STARTED WITH EVE some new life to a new generation of movie lovers looking for something amusing, nostalgic as well as lighthearted entertainment by its three principal actors. (***1/2).
This is an absolutely delicious film!
Laughton steals the show as always, in a role similar to the one Walter Connolly played in "It Happened One Night". If you love 40's films and mistaken identity plots, you won't be disappointed. Deanna Durbin was perfectly cast and has a lovely rapport with Laughton. She is radiant when singing, and her voice is natural and beautiful. At the age of 27, she walked away from stardom to have a secluded life. We can at least be thankful for the films she made.
A real gem from start to finish!
With Deanna Durbin's charm, Charles Laughton's energy, a decent supporting
cast, and a worthwhile story, "It Started With Eve" is a funny and engaging
comedy. It may seem like a weird idea to pair such dissimilar talents as
Durbin and Laughton, but it does work. As Laughton's son, Robert Cummings
gets mostly straight lines, but he performs his role well, and Walter
Catlett also has some good moments as a rather high-strung
The story starts out a little slowly, but once it gets rolling it is interesting. It also has some thoughtful moments, as the characters try to figure out how to deal with all the dilemmas that start when Cummings's character has to improvise a way of comforting his seriously ill father. The actual plot developments are insubstantial in themselves, but are generally used to good effect. It could have been played as an all-out screwball comedy, but here the more balanced approach seems to work at least as well.
The movie builds up steam as things develop, and saves some of the best moments for the climactic sequence. It's a successful combination that makes for enjoyable viewing.
Would anyone not take a bet that a 20-year-old young woman would be
mincemeat if she tried to take a film away from the skilled and hammy
hands of Charles Laughton, especially when Laughton, to modern eyes,
looks suspiciously like he's playing Tim Conway playing one of Conway's
old, tottering geezers? It Started With Eve, an attractive romantic
comedy, stars Deanna Durbin, Robert Cummings and Charles Laughton. It
was a shame Laughton wasn't a few years younger. He and Durbin turn out
to be quite a pair, both of them adept at delivering smart lines, doing
subtle double-takes or moving from subversive good cheer to tear-jerker
moments of sincerity. They dominate the film and they do it as equals.
Robert Cummings was a skilled light-weight lead. Here. as in so many of
his films, he just doesn't have the leading-man gravitas to appear as
anything but an earnest puppy. When he shares a scene with either
Laughton or Durbin, he makes a pleasant second banana.
It Started With Eve begins with Jonathan Reynolds (Laughton), a rich old tycoon, apparently on his death bed. When his son, Jonathan Junior (Cummings), comes rushing in from a trip to Mexico, old Jonathan asks to meet young Jonathan's new fiancé, who has come to New York with him, accompanied by her mother. Young Jonathan tries to contact his fiancé, can't reach her, and believing his father is now dying, happens upon Anne Terry (Durbin), a hat-check girl. He rushes Anne to the side of his father and introduces her as his fiancé. But the next day his father recovers. Now young Jonathan has his fiancé he can't let his father meet, and his father wants to keep seeing Anne, thinking she's the fiancé. The movie's an hour-and-a- half of mistaken identity and screw-ball encounters. Love finally wins out, but only after Laughton plays matchmaker and Durbin sings two or three songs. Along the way we have some clever lines ("The trouble with being sick is you have to associate with doctors!"), a good deal of skullduggery as Laughton contrives to smoke the cigars his doctor forbids him, and a fast pace set by director Henry Koster. Laughton, of course, overacts but gets away with it. He also has a comb-up hair style that, if he were a foot shorter, would let him pass for a munchkin. He does a lot of stooped-over shuffling, squinting from under his eye- brows, and little bits of business that we wind up hardly noticing when Durbin is around. She must have been quite a challenge for him. Durbin, at 20, is no longer the child star. She's well-nigh gorgeous, with a figure that could make staring illegal. She is natural and straight- forward, and completely self-assured. She's one of the few actresses who could get away with sniffing mightily or falling down next to a piano and make us smile just at her style. She was, in a word or two, sui generis. And for those who admire subversive scene-stealers, the movie has that master, Walter Catlett, playing Dr. Harvey. Catlett was in hundreds of films, usually playing blowhards or flustered shysters. He's a bit subdued here, but just the sound of his voice is enough to make me smile.
The movie is a bit of froth, expertly served. If it's a little dated, well, so am I.
1941, an old man, once living the high-life, is now dying. His son
returns home for what may be his last visit to his dear old father.
When father and son once again meet, your eyes will likely start to
swell as they talk softly and tenderly. Their nostalgic talk turns to
the present with the father asking to meet his son's bride-to-be. With
the old man's dying request fresh in our memories, the son rushes to
the hotel to get his wife at the hotel. Unable to find his wife, he
talks the coat-check girl at the hotel into accompanying him home as
the woman his father had not yet met. The deception, well intended and
light-hearted, becomes the story and evolves beautifully to the benefit
of everyone especially the viewer.
What at first starts out to appear as a serious drama, quickly becomes a great comedy. This is a believable, human story with emotion, music and love that can make nostalgia appear not so nostalgic while even causing one to hope for a remake of this movie. Every main character earns its own level of adoration so easily, it takes no effort to relate.
Charles Laughton plays a comical, aging, old fart who is brought back to life because of his admiration for the woman he believes to be his future daughter-in-law. Always known as a great actor, he appeared to be having a lot of fun while giving us his all. He is easily the most comical character and, just as easily, the most loved.
Robert Cummings was truly at his best as well. While I cannot say I know a lot about his movies, I have seen some of his other movies and some reruns of his TV shows. I remember enjoying what he did. He effortlessly switches from the saddened son to the man in the middle, frustrated with a plot gone wrong.
Now for the reason I even looked at this movie Deanna Durbin. She has one of the best voices, ever! Yes, singing styles have changed, but her clarity and tone win her a place in my heart forever(despite our age differences). Back to the movie, her character was simply fun, quirky, adorable and desirable. While being used to make Cummings' character and his father happy, she eventually becomes the one to save. While her situation with loneliness and doubt looms, her music and charm so pleases the old man, he has to do something to help her while not letting her know that he knows she is not really who she at first pretended to be. Her emotional moments are her best. Singing a song the old man requests, her tears nearly tore me up and then in the next scene, her fits of hysterical laughter just as easily rip at the soul.
I do encourage anyone who likes 40's style movies to see this. I have seen a few of Durbin's movies but, so far, this was the best in style, story and quality. This movie gets a 10 from me. Excuse me while I dry my tears.
This little heralded musical comedy is Deanna Durbin's best film and is arguably the finest film of its kind ever produced by Universal studio. It is a gem from start to finish, featuring first-rate acting by Durbin, Cummings, and Laughton (who comes close to stealing the entire movie), good music, and an excellent script. One thinks of what Durbin might have made had she worked for MGM. Still, even though Universal was part of "poverty row," the movie enjoyed a decent budget, providing sets and outdoor scenes of a first class quality. Deanna was only 20, and her youth and exuberant singing and piano playing reach heights rarely seen on the screen. You do not want to miss this one. These days it is usually encountered as part of the Deanna Durbin "Sweetheart Pack," which is well worth the money.
Charles Laughton had a personality that was totally dominating, as one
can see in his greatest performances as Henry VIII, Captain Bligh,
Quasimodo, Sir Wilfred Robards, Henry Horatio Hobson. But he knew (for
the most part) when to control his more hammy moments. It is unfair to
compare him with his sometime co-star Robert Newton, as Newton had an
alcohol problem not shared by Laughton. But Newton's overblown, drunken
performances (like his BLACKBEARD) are never matched by Laughton, the
consummate professional. Laughton could do a role badly due to poor
script or direction. Commander Sturm, the jealous submarine commander
married to Talullah Bankhead, is one of his worse parts. But they are
usually early roles. Once he was established he rarely made such
IT STARTED WITH EVE is not one of Laughton's greatest film parts, but it is a feel good comedy. He plays Jonathan Reynolds Sr., a multi-millionaire who is on his death bed. He only wants to see his son (Bob Cummings) and his son's fiancé once before he dies. But the fiancé is not in New York City yet (she will be the next day). So Cummings takes a hat check girl (Deanna Durbin) with him to introduce to his father as "Gloria" his fiancé. Unfortunately, Durbin's personality is very pleasing to the old man - and his spirits rising, his health improves. This brings all sorts of complications up, not even just for Cummings and Durbin.
For example,a side issue in the first half hour of the film - two harpies from the national museum are there to make a death mask of Mr. Reynolds. They are sitting quietly waiting for the good news (that Reynolds is dead and they can make their death mask). Every time it looks promising, they perk up - only to be forced to wait longer. Then, when Durbin plays the piano and sings for Laughton, he gets out of bed to hear it. The two men realize that this is hopeless, and pack up and leave.
Cummings' character is faulted for not confronting his father with the truth, and turning wimpish. It is not quite fair. The doctor (Walter Catlett) feels that Laughton's health has to rebuild itself for awhile before the truth can be revealed, and he convinces Cummings not to tell Laughton that Durbin is not his future daughter-in-law.
All three leads actually blend quite nicely, Laughton's tendency to dominate reduced because he is recovering from his illness (although his booming dominance reappears once, when he gets impatient with Cummngs not supposedly forgetting a quarrel with Durbin, and starts shouting, "Say you forgive her, say you forgive her" in his best Bligh tones). Durbin, who was a good actress when the right part came her way, easily ingratiates herself with Laughton by being his lookout when he smokes his forbidden cigars. Cummings trying to figure out how to break up with the false "Gloria", and to reintroduce the real "Gloria" actually is not so wimpish at just pathetically unable to carry out any of his schemes successfully. Add to the three Walter Catlett, here playing a decent doctor who has gotten onto Laughton's nerves (because of his forcing Laughton to lose weight and to stop smoking) gives a fine performance as he is slowly driven to distraction by his patient's antics. Not a great film, but a good example of a studio inspired comedy that is well worth watching.
It Started with Eve is my favorite Deanna Durbin movie. I owned this movie on video, also I have Nice Girl? and His Butler Sister. They do not compare with this film. Deanna plays a hat-check girl in a hotel who poses as Robert Cummings' future bride for his dying father. Charles Laughton plays Cummings' father in the film suddenly get better. Cummings does not know how to tell the father when the real bride arrives. Besides acting Deanna is singing during the movie. Nice to watch and relax on a rain or snowy day.
Let's see - you're a classically trained singer with a gorgeous voice,
you're pretty, a good actress, highly paid...and all you want is to get
out of show business.
That's Deanna Durbin's story, and thank goodness, she didn't get her wish until she made films like "It Started with Eve," also starring Charles Laughton and Robert Cummings.
Durbin plays Anne Terry, a hat check girl trying to make it as a classical singer. One night, she is drafted by Johnny Reynolds Jr. (Cummings) who believes his father (Laughton) is dying. His father has insisted on meeting his fiancée, but when Johnny returns to the hotel to find her, she and her mother (Margaret Tallichet and Catherine Doucet) aren't in their room. Desperate, he offers Anne money if she will pose as his fiancée. Anne wants to return home to her family, so the money will come in handy. She accompanies him to his father's deathbed.
Well, Jonathan Reynolds Sr. rallies! He's not going to die, and his son may well -- he now has two fiancées. Jonathan Sr. plans a party for all his high falutin' friends, including people like Leopold Stokowski, to meet Anne and to have her sing for them.
Johnny Jr. is in a pickle and tells Anne that he will say that they broke up and then introduce his father to his real fiancée, whom Reynolds Sr.'s doctor will bring to the house. But Anne wants to sing at the party, so after he announces the big breakup, Anne rushes in and begs forgiveness.
Robert Cummings, a huge star in television, was usually second tier in films. He always excelled in comedy, and he does a great job here. Laughton, playing a man who's supposedly dying, looks quite gaunt and is, of course, marvelous as a man who has a great relationship with Anne and grows fond of her.
Deanna Durbin herself acts and sings like a dream and looks beautiful. Her warm personality shines through. She sings "Clavelitos," "Goin' Home," "When I Sing," and "Ahi, viene la conga" impressively.
"It Started with Eve," is a fast-moving, fun, highly entertaining film with moments of poignancy. This film marked the end of Deanna Durbin's work with producer Joe Pasternak and director Henry Koster; Pasternak went to MGM, and Deanna went on suspension for turning down a script. In the end, she was given approval of her directors, stories and songs.
Hard to believe this songbird, now 90, retired at the age of 26 and never looked back. It's a tribute to her that 64 years post-retirement, Deanna Durbin still has plenty of fans.
She was a great singer; and this film proves she was an engaging,
charming actress as well. She more than holds her own with the
incomparable Laughton (only 41 when he made this) and is paired very
well with "Uncle" Bob Cummings (so well remembered for his 50s
sitcom.)And there are some great supporting players on hand: Walter
Catlett, Clara Blandick, Irving Bacon, etc.
This is a winning combination film, somewhat derivative of others in the past, but fresh in many ways. One reviewer mentioned the set design and one wonders what it would have been like in color. The costumes are also pretty special.
Deanna only made a handful of films, but this is one of the best. A real feel good time. Enjoy!
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