Posted in First Take

[1937.8] One Hundred Men and a Girl

I will be watching all 10 nominees from 1937 before I move on to the next year. The goal here is to watch them and have an internal discussion among them to try to piece together a “history” of the year. Let’s get to it.  

The simplest movie out of the eight (so far) from 1937, One Hundred Men and a Girl, also proves one of the most successful. This film is logically self-contained, and though it possesses only fragments of human endeavor, its ends justify its means. One Hundred Men and a Girl is meant to show off breakout star Deanna Durbin’s vocal and acting chops and needed a truly simple plot to maneuver from point A to point B. In 80 minutes, we learn just enough about each character so that we (the audience) can discern a character’s motivations for action, even if the environment will not allow for it or, more often, over-corrects to an illogical extreme. What makes One Hundred Men and a Girl different from a film like In Old Chicago is the complete unabashed focus on real-life career-making at the expense of a comprehensive or even believable story or character development.

For example, in no way do I believe that 100 people are ready at a moment’s notice, fully practiced and tuned, to jump at the chance to perform “in three days,” for a famed maestro [the actual Leopold Stokowski], who has no idea of any of it. I do not believe young Patsy has the wherewithal to move so deftly through a city and catch people unaware and ready to chat – or the opposite, to “just miss” the loopy (and perhaps drunk) benefactress for this orchestra of unemployed urchins. I do not believe the supportive taxi man would give up his day job to shuttle this rambunctious, if not well-meaning, teenager, around the city for hours and days at a time as an “investment in her voice.” BUT: because I am aware of all these plot holes and nonsense coincidences, and I am also aware of this film’s purpose, I cast aside the doubt in exchange for a simple and fun 80-minute tale of validated dreams. It is inspiring. 

Deanna Durbin, One Hundred Men‘s beloved Patsy, followed a career arc that was designed to fail. Based on her talent as a teenager, Durbin went on to start or act in almost two dozen films in the late 1930s and 40s, to great, moderate, then dwindling success. The Hollywood machine had worn her down and she withdrew from public life in 1949 until her death over 60 years later in 2013. She is not remembered in popular culture, except by film buffs and those who had grown up with her movies, most of whom are slowing fading, too. Durbin’s on-screen father, however, Adolphe Menjou, is remembered as if on the anti-blacklist in Hollywood: his political sympathies (he sided with Joe McCarthy) and distinctive moustache continue his post-death “career” as the butt of some jokes in film and television, even some years after his death: he earns a shout-out in Sunset Boulevard and in The Godfather and in M*A*S*H and on The Andy Griffith Show. For all off his accomplishments, both on- and off-screen, one has to wonder whether it is better to burn out than fade away completely, or if it matters at all-seeing as the most recent generations probably could not identify Durbin from Menjou.

One Hundred Men and a Girl is a simple, heartwarming and inspiring film because it did not take its premise with more than a grain of salt. The film was clear in its objective to showcase a young Durbin as a singer and actress for the profit of the studio who took a chance on her, from one angle, and for the girl herself, who took full advantage of this opportunity for the next decade, from another.

In no universe does One Hundred Men and a Girl win Best Picture, over The Life of Emile Zola or any other picture, considering the amount of films nominated and the technical prowess of most of them. Yet we can still remember this as a worthwhile film, adding some dialogue to the continuously growing reflection of society.

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