Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

*** Contains spoilers ***
Much like the machinations of the plot, there appear to be more than one agenda hiding behind this 1944 film noir musical.

On the one hand it's a deadly serious drama about the leading lady's transformation from singleton into lonely convict's wife.

On the other, well, it's got Deanna Durbin in it, so of course the producers seem to be trying to work in as many songs as possible for her, with only occasional success.

When we first meet Durbin's character, she's earning her crusts as a femme fatale singer in a club, which fits the genre well, and enables her to get in a song straight away. Then she goes to a midnight mass service at church where, quite reasonably, the congregation is expected to also sing. Except that instead she just sits there in silence before breaking down in tears. Oh. Sorry Miss. We didn't realise.

Later there are flashbacks to her happier younger days, including meeting the love of her life (Gene Kelly!) at a concert, where neither of them is singing, or dancing. (although later on there is plenty of rain) As we see their relationship develop, they attend a further performance, where they likewise merely talk. To portray their married life, at one point he does play the piano while his wife sings, but that's about as close as we get to either of their typical fare.

By the end of the movie Kelly has become an embittered murderer on the run, while Durbin's present-day self is back at the club, again crooning sadly at the bleakness of her broken world, now that we the audience understand why.

The pacing here is great. Time gets taken over the fractured family that the characters are living in, and there's a lot of subtlety to their inner motivations and hence performances. It's definitely Durbin's strongest acting outing that I've seen.

The end of the film, when she finally gets her guy back only to find him full of resentment for her before he gets shot and dies, had me finding I was wiping a tear away. She realises that she can at last let go of her yearning, free to finally get on with her life, and it takes a performer as strong as Durbin to command the camera so powerfully on this.

I'm afraid I can't say the same for Gene Kelly though. I'm afraid I found his portrayal too suspicious for Durbin, or anyone, to trust enough to fall in love with.

Elsewhere in her career, Deanna Durbin seems to have made several films in which getting happily married has been portrayed as the conclusion.

It's a numbing thing thing to witness what might have befallen any of those young women after the end credits had finished.

(available here)

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