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For reasons beyond comprehension, "Can't Help Singing" is a film no one I
know has even heard of, much less seen, probably because Deanna Durbin, a
child actress of the mid-1930s who blossomed into an alluring,witty,
beautiful young woman in the 1940s, suddenly chucked her career in 1948,
started a new life in the French countryside with her husband and
children, and has never been heard from since.
But, within a little more than a decade, she not only saved Universal
studios from bankruptcy but was the most popular female star of her
Watching her films today, one is amazed at how contemporary they--and
she--are, particularly when she graduated from child star ("100 Men and a
Girl," "Three Smart Girls") to a spunky young lady with a voice of pure
velvet and a melting range of emotions (from rueful to
"Can't Help Singing" is a luscious introduction to the timeless charm of
Durbin. Her first--and only-- film in Technicolor, this lighthearted
musical Western must have cost Universal a fortune--filmed mainly on
locations in the Northwest, with one of Jerome Kern's most beautiful (and
underappreciated scores). Forget the plot about a politician's daughter
who, against her father's orders, heads West to track down her handsome
cavalry lover (David Bruce) but, en route via covered wagon to the wild,
wild West, finds herself locking horns--and finally arms--with a dashing,
sarcastic cowboy (Robert Paige--whose good looks and soaring baritone are
more than a match for Ms. Durbin's beauty and exquisite soprano).
What counts is the ravishing color photography of Kern's songs--filmed on location in the great outdoors (the highlight, for me, is Ms. Durbin's soaring rendition of "Any Moment Now" filmed as she wanders through the breathtaking backdrop of Bryce Canyon--truly one of the most exquisite musical interludes in movie history). Add "More and More" (Oscar-nominated), "Californiay," and the knockout title song (performed by Ms. Durbin & Mr. Paige in adjoining outdoor bathtubs--don't ask!)and there's little more you could wish for in a movie--musical or otherwise. I've read that the film was a boxoffice disappointment and hastened Ms. Durbin's decision to call it quits a few years later. And most of the reviews I occasionally come across are generally lukewarm, if not hostile. Movie scholars might argue that, from an historical viewpoint, "Can't Help Singing" was an unintentional precursor of all the zesty, musical Westerns that were to enchant movie audiences during the next decade. Perhaps so. Who cares. I can't see how anyone can resist the once-in-a-lifetime glories of Deanna Durbin in her dazzling prime, the most beauteous use of Technicolor imaginable, and the entrancing melodies of probably our finest American composer, Mr. Kern. Thank you all very much.
In a decade devoid of great (non-MGM, non-Rita Hayworth) color musicals, CAN'T HELP SINGING deserves a more important place among the celebrated. A female-driven western tale preceding HARVEY GIRLS, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, and CALAMITY JANE, while musically aping Broadway smash OKLAHOMA, this adaptation of GIRL OF THE OVERLAND TRAIL is the uniting of three great entertainment entities - Durbin, Jerome Kern, and the resources of the Universal Technicolor escapist machine. After losing Durbin's producer, Joe Pasternak, and her director, Henry Koster, to MGM, you'd think they would have tried more often, but no, Durbin's 1940s pictures were not expensively-mounted productions, and this is quite a distinctive product for 1943-4 Universal. However, not being a Durbin afficionado is probably the main reason this is my favorite Durbin vehicle. The superior if neglected Kern score awaits rediscovery, from the beguiling title tune (Durbin and company can't help singing from outdoor bathtubs) to lush ballads like "More and More" (also a big Perry Como hit), and a rousing, ersatz "Oklahoma" homage to "Californ-i-a." Without Maria Montez-John Hall to bolster, the populous if underused supporting company does well enough, with Robert Paige (a sort of poor man's John Carroll) not near so bad as I'd heard. Make no mistake, the "Durbin-ator" dominates the affair, surrounded by all the bright, lush colors of the Technicolor rainbow lavishly painting impressive backdrops of scenery, an extravagant, detailed, period wardrobe, and the Collector's Doll make-up adorning the star's perfect face. Durbin herself is at her gorgeous peak, and this colorful achievement is certainly the entertainment it set out to be.
You don't need to be a Deanna Durbin fan to find this film delightful.
It should appeal to anyone who enjoys traditional musicals like
"Oklahoma" and "Showboat".
Can't Help Singing is filled with humor and wit, played with a wink to the audience and genuine gusto--not dated in the least. Akim Tamaroff is especially funny; you can clearly see how he was the model for "Boris Badinov" in the "Bullwinkle" cartoons.
The songs are first rate; Kearn's melodies are beautiful and Harburg's lyric to "Californiay" is full of wit, creativity, and surprises; his other lyrics are well done, but nothing special.
Another layer of delight and interest to someone who knows about the history of movie musicals, like myself, is how far ahead of it's time this film is. The large majority of it is filled outdoors, a lot of it on location. This is unique and innovative in an era when virtually all musicals were filmed inside sound stages with some use of the studio back lot. One of the musical numbers features Durbin in outdoor locations which vary from shot to shot, while she continues to sing seamlessly. This is something that became common a decade or more later, but certainly pioneering in 1944.
Durbin and Paige are both fine singers, most likable, adept at playing the light humor their roles call for. This is a film that should be much better known and appreciated.
Toward the end of her career at Universal, they finally splurged on technicolor and fancy scenery for an enjoyable, tuneful,colorful western-comedy-romance, 'Can't Help Singing' featuring a musical score by Jerome Kern. Deanna's father (Ray Collins) wants her to forget the Army officer she loves (David Bruce) and sends him off to California during the Gold Rush days. Deanna decides to go west to find him--but en route falls in love with a handsome cowboy (Robert Paige). Against some stunning technicolor scenery, much of the music is given the full treatment by Durbin at her best--her voice was richer than ever. She does a standout job on 'Can't Help Singing', 'More and More', and 'Cali-for-ni-ay' and even duets with Robert Paige for a reprise of the title song (both in outdoor bathing tubs up to their necks in soap bubbles). Some of the comedy routines seem a bit strained and weak--but overall it's a wonderful showcase for Deanna Durbin and her fans certainly should appreciate the chance to see her at her radiant best. AMC shows it in a beautifully restored technicolor print.
There is a reason Deanna Durbin was one of the top Hollywood stars from
the mid-Thirties through the Forties. She was a natural actress with a
fine face and figure and a deep- throated soprano she knew how to use.
She was one of those people the camera loves. Her personality, direct
and warm, comes straight across to the audience. She could handle all
the immaculate make-up Hollywood gave her as she matured into a young
woman, but there always was something of the tomboy about her. She had
a natural exuberance, a sense of humor and a good-natured willingness
to take pratfalls or march into mud-holes. And she was a professional
at her craft. In this movie, Can't Help Singing, watch how she manages
to wander through the woods singing, through bushes and over hillocks,
avoiding branches, and periodically fronting pretty scenery. This scene
is shot in long takes. I have no idea how many takes it took, but
Durbin manages to move, sing, smile, emote a bit and hit all of her
marks without any sign of effort or evidence of an editor's scissors
used to mask mistakes.
By the time Durbin was 14 she was major box office, and stayed there until she retired in 1950 at 29. She never liked the glitz and fan adulation of stardom. She and her third husband left for France right after she retired and that was that. She still lives just outside Paris, has turned down any number of film offers and hasn't granted an interview with anyone since 1949. As a person who was grounded in reality and decided to live her own life, Deanna Durbin gets a tip of my hat.
Can't Help Singing is a lush, colorful musical about a young woman, Caroline Frost, daughter of a wealthy senator, who leaves Washington against the wishes of her father to meet the man she intents to marry. He is a cavalry lieutenant, and the senator has seen to it that his regiment has been sent to California to guard gold during the start of the Gold Rush. Caroline is determined, and along the way has to deal with steamboats, Russian con-men, a cross-country wagon, Indians, finaglers, grafters, boss-men and card sharps. The card sharp winds up holding more than cards. He turns out to be the romantic lead. After 90 minutes of songs, comedy, adventures and the occasional kiss, all ends well for everyone.
This was Deanna Durbin's only color movie and the studio went all out. Can't Help Singing is stuffed with wide-open vistas, detailed studio sets and costumes that would make Vincente Minnelli envious. What makes the movie memorable, however (in addition to Durbin), are two songs from the score by Jerome Kern and E. Y. Harburg. From the moment the movie starts and we see Durbin driving a two-horse carriage singing "Can't Help Singing," it's time to sit back and smile. The number is one of those big, fat, intensely melodic songs that few composers besides Kern could pull off. She sings it twice, the last time part of a production that takes place in an outdoor western bath house. It pops up now and then as a melodic background line. The song works every time. The second Kern/Harburg show-stopper is "Californ-i-ay," where "the hills have more splendor; the girls have more gender." It's another major production number with a big melody and clever lyrics. Everyone and everything from the two leads to giant vegetables take part.
The movie is pleasant enough, although the two Russian con-men get tedious and Durbin's leading man, while manly enough, doesn't make much of an impression. The movie belongs only to Deanna Durbin, as all of her films did. With those two songs from Kern and Harburg, it's worth spending some time with.
I wanted to second the comments of Sdiner that "Can't Help Singing" is a lavishly produced and totally unappreciated color movie from the early 1940s. A local showing a couple of years ago brought out dozens of fans in Southern Utah, including many who remember seeing it in the 1940s and 2-3 people who were extras in the film. Many scenes were shot in the meadows of the Markagunt Plateau, near Navajo Lake, in southwestern Utah, and Deanna Durbin was filmed against the backdrop of nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument (not Bryce Canyon), not far from the resort town of Brian Head. A number of movies between 1938 and the mid-1950s used this "studio" for real-life scenery, movies like "The Outriders," "My Friend Flicka," and "Drums Along the Mohawk." These movies did much to open up the interest of Americans in the West and its national parks, but it was the glorious Technicolor that made and makes "Can't Help Singing" truly special.
"CAN'T HELP SINGING" - I first saw this charming colour film on
television and treasured the tape recording for many years.
My late mother liked Deanna and had a "Deanna Durbin" Hat and told me that she once visited Paris in the late 30's and misplaced this cherished hat and was asking everyone if they'd seen "mon chapeau" - she retrieved it! The hat is remembered from "100 Men and A Girl" with the theatre caretaker watching the moving feather as Deanna was hiding behind the theatre seats.
The songs from "Can't Help Singing" are memorable and they are repeated nicely in the colourful dress-changing finale of the film. I believe "continuity" was a bit apprehensive, but Deanna said "no one will notice"! I love the public bath-house scene and note the slightly cross look Deanna throws her co-star's way when he insists on joining in the song at one point - as if she wants to keep the song's delivery entirely to herself! It is a great scene along with the bonus confusion at the end of it, when Robert Page eagerly awaits the unknown singer.
"More and More" is performed beautifully with Deanna serenading her travelling companion. I like the the bells at the end of "Any Moment Now" at which Deanna reacts. "Californ-i-ay" is another highlight. A super happy film with quite a bit of hilarity at the end.
Deanna Durbin's one Technicolor movie gives her a decent showcase, and
adds a Jerome Kern score plus plenty of good settings and scenery, to
make for enjoyable light entertainment and pleasant viewing. Its pluses
include Durbin's singing and the colorful outdoors photography.
The period setting makes it different from the stories in most of Durbin's other movies, but fortunately her character (an independent-minded Senator's daughter) is similar enough to many of her other roles, in giving her a lively character with a variety of material to work with. (It wasn't really necessary, though, to make her hair so much lighter - her dark hair would have looked great in color.) The settings range from 1840s Washington DC to the unsettled expanses of the Old West. In itself, the period atmosphere works pretty well, and it also throws in one or two ironic details along the way.
As Durbin's co-star, Robert Paige is a bit bland as a character, but his singing is up to par. Akim Tamiroff has a good role as one of the scamps heading west with Durbin's character. In smaller roles, Ray Collins and Thomas Gomez give good performances. The combination of Durbin's voice, energy, and charm with the period story and settings works rather well.
Can't Help Singing featuring Deanna Durbin singing those wonderful
Jerome Kern-E.Y. Harburg songs either solo or with Robert Paige is nice
musical entertainment. So entertaining it can even be forgiven some
very illogical plot premises.
Deanna's the daughter of a United States Senator who's run away from home to catch up to her beau, cavalry lieutenant David Bruce. On the wagon train west to California she hooks up with gambler Robert Paige and a couple of Russian con artists, Akim Tamiroff and Leonid Kinsky.
Maybe I am being picky, but I cannot understand for the life of me why Deanna's father Ray Collins had such a problem with David Bruce. He sees him as an opportunist, but at the time of the California gold rush when this film is set, there was in fact a very famous marriage by an army lieutenant to a prominent Senator's daughter. That would be John C. Fremont wedding Jessie Benton, daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton.
Of course an ambitious army lieutenant is no match for his sugarplum, but hooking up with a gambler is all right. Doesn't make any sense no matter how many times I see Can't Help Singing.
Still when Jerome Kern writes the music, a whole multitude of sins are forgiven. Universal spent quite a bit of money on this film, probably more than they'd spend on three Abbott and Costello films and those two were Universal's bread and butter at this time.
In fact Kinsky and Tamiroff make a very funny pair. Maybe they should have teamed more often.
Can't Help Singing is good musical entertainment, just learn to live with the ridiculous plot.
This Durbin vehicle had just three songs worthy of Jerome Kern and E.
Y. Harburg: "More and More," "Californ-i-ay," and the title song. These
are really wonderful pieces, which fortunately recur throughout on a
The Technicolor is indeed glorious, and there's nothing wrong with the casting. It's also true that Durbin looks radiant in her first color film.
Alas, the rest of the score is a disappointment, simply lacking in inspiration. They try to beef it up with production values, to little avail. Likewise, the script's just not quite up to Deanna's standards. One can admire the costumes, staging, photography--and those three songs. Durbin fans will be probably be pleased with everything here; others, probably less so.
It's easy to see the Durbin magic as she lights up the screen with charisma and her beautiful voice. A pleasant trifle for the Durbin DVD "Sweetheart Pack."
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