It isn’t often one can view a classic movie on a big screen in a real movie theater. One of the few places that can happen is at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto California.
Luckily for Joe he gets to Palo Alto several times a year and can attend films at the Stanford, films which come with live Organ introductions, just as if you were back in the 1930s.
Recently he was there for the screening of two Deanna Durbin films, First Love and Christmas Holiday.
First Love is quintessential Durbin fare, a modern day cinderella story and the film that’s famous because in it Deanna received her first screen kiss. It co-stars Robert Stack (the kisser), Eugene Pallette, Leatrice Joy and Helen Parrish.
It might be hard for anyone who isn’t a Durbin fan to sit through. But it’s fun if you’re in the moment. And the ending is a classic–Deanna singing Un bel di from Madame Butterfly.
The Stanford Theatre program informed us that Lotfi Mansouri, former General Director of San Francisco Opera, reported that he first discovered Puccini as a teenager in his native Iran — sung by Deanna Durbin.
Actually, Joe had gone to the double bill to see the second feature which he’d only read about, Christmas Holiday.
Now in 1944 when a film co-starred Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly one would think the moviegoer had a right to expect light musical fare — especially with Christmas in the title. But this film with a script by Herman J. Mankiewicz based on a novel by Somerset Maugham, is a film noir directed by Robert Siodmak.
Joe thought he knew what to expect, but even he was surprised. Kelly gives a chilling performance as a slightly crazy murderer. Gale Sondergaard, the superb character actress plays his possesive and protective mother. Durbin is a bit out of her element but is enough of an actress to make the material work.
But the material is a bit confused. As was typical for the day the censors wouldn’t let our lead character be a prostitute in a brothel, so Deanna is a singer/hostess in a nightclub.
It’s worth seeing the film at least once. It’s such an oddity. Supposedly Durbin considered it her only good film.
What strikes us is that today it is difficult to measure the star power Deanna Durbin had. Although some fans and some critics were displeased with her choice of material, they were still loyal. The film grossed over $2,000,000 making it one of the highest grossing films of the year and her biggest grosser to date. In today’s dollars it would be equivalent to the film grossing over $100 million.