Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

*** Contains spoilers ***

Deanna Durbin's 1939 reworking of the classic Cinderella fairy story is a similarly simple plot, but with fascinating execution.

She's an orphan, as usual, who can sing, as usual, and who finds herself trying to perpetuate a lie, as usual. Yes, I know it's only the sixth feature in her career, but it's also the eighth one I've watched lately.

What makes this one different to the others I've seen, and also keeps us rooting for her, is that as Connie she's trying to bring to life someone else's lie. As is standard, this doesn't work, and as is less standard, what turns her life around is starting to be truthful, even if a different bunch of good guys are now lying to make it all work out for her.

Confused? Well, better not pay any attention to Connie's cousin Barbara (Helen Parrish) who I mistook for the leading lady in two scenes. What's that? Which one is she? I'm not sure...

However the dialogue here is deep, philosophical and smart, and this alone makes the whole thing engrossing. Connie returns to her old boarding school, hoping to embrace independence and fix her error of making her happiness dependent upon others. Here Miss Wiggins' world-weariness is just the latest piece of dialogue that authors Lionel Houser and Bruce Manning seem to have really poured themselves into.

Miss Wiggins: "Now you'll sing at that meeting, show them a sample of what you know about music, have them make up their minds right away."
Connie: "Oh thank you. That'll be marvellous."
Miss Wiggins: "It'll be terrible but I'll do it. You'll get a new dress for it. I'll have all the girls go to the auditorium so you'll have an audience, and you'll sing something that'll be effective."
Connie: "The Spring Song."
Miss Wiggins: "No not The Spring Song. One Fine Day - [Madama] Butterfly by Puccini. Know it?"
Connie: "Yes?"
Miss Wiggins: "Well get to work on it. That'll make them all cry. All the old maids'll sniffle. You know - 'One fine day he'll come back to me'."
Connie: "Oh but, I'd rather, I..."
Miss Wiggins: "Rather what."
Connie: "Well couldn't I sing something else?"
Miss Wiggins: "Why!"
Connie: "Well, I don't think it's a good idea to make them sad."
Miss Wiggins: "Make you sad to sing it?"
Connie: "No. No, not me. You just said it'd make them cry, I..."
Miss Wiggins: "Old maids are only happy when they cry. You'll find that out."

There are also some nice creative flourishes in the direction, particularly during the slightly surreal dancing scene. (enormous set!)

The ending, in which she finds happiness that is dependent upon a relationship after all, is a disappointment, and one which emphasises that Connie seems to spend her entire life getting manipulated by the choices of others. (foreshadowing of Durbin's reasons for later quitting Hollywood?) Even the 'nice' cops who help her out are, by doing so, bad ones. James Clinton's (Eugene Pallette) loss of temper only serves to further highlight Connie's lack of any character development of her own.

A bit hard to get into, but once you are in, highly watchable.

(available here)

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