It’s a Date (1940)

 itsadateCast:
Deanna Durbin … Pamela Drake
Kay Francis … Georgia Drake
Walter Pidgeon … John Arlen
Eugene Pallette … Gov. Allen
Henry Stephenson … Capt. Andrew
Cecilia Loftus … Sara Frankenstein
Samuel S. Hinds … Sidney Simpson
Lewis Howard … Fred ‘Freddie’ Miller
S.Z. Sakall … Karl Ober
Fritz Feld … Oscar, the Headwaiter
Virginia Brissac … Miss Holden, Summer Stock Teacher
Romaine Callender … Mr. Evans, Summer Stock Teacher
Joe King … First Mate Dan Kelly
Mary Kelley … Lil Alden, Governor’s Wife
Eddie Polo … Quartermaster

Directed by William A. Seiter
Produced by Joe Pasternak
Story by Jane Hall, Frederick Kohner & Ralph Block
Screenplay by Norman Krasna
Orchestration by Frank Skinner
Musical Direction by Charles Previn
Camera by Joseph Valentine
Editor by Bernard Burton
Art Direction by Jack Otterson
Set Decoration by R.A. Gausman
Gowns by Vera West

Notable Songs
“Love is All” by Pinky Tomlin & Harry Tobias.
“Loch Lomond”, click here for Wikipedia info.
“Ava Maria” by Franz Schubert.

A Universal Picture.
Released March 22, 1940.

Background:

Jeanine Basinger pointed out in The Star Machine that “the career of Deanna Durbin is a fairy tale with no parallel in movie history. It began with a bang in 1936 and ended unexpectedly in 1948. Her original success was so sudden that she can actually qualify as a bona fide member of that dubious category ‘overnight sensation,’ and her ultimate stardom was so large that she has often been credited with ‘single-handedly’ saving Universal Pictures from financial ruin.”

Such claims of Deanna’s stardom can be proven with a film like It’s A Date (1940), one of the most popular films in the country when initially released. It wasn’t expensive to make, but caused a major sensation and is still to this day considered one of the best films she ever made. Luckily, Kay was wise enough to allow herself to play second-fiddle to this enormously talented and popular teenager. Walter Pidgeon, too, played wonderfully as the man who comes between the mother who is tired of her stardom, and the daughter who is trying to achieve it.

Kay’s test for It’s a Date was filmed in December, 1939 (PL), with filming beginning almost immediately after that. It’s a Date proved to be an even bigger box office hit than Durbin’s Three Smart Girls (1936), which had grossed $1.6 million at the box office (SM). With It’s a Date grossing around the $2 million mark (SM), this “bona fide success” was well received by critics, too, who credited the film’s cast as being “uniformly excellent” and the pictures as being “improbable entertainment” (CR).

Picturegoer Weekly’s review of the film was a triumph for Kay itself. The fan magazine noted that Kay was “back in the smarter, wittier setting which she should have never left, and she is acting better than ever. The tearful, trashy roles of the past five years are, I hope, gone forever. And Kay Francis at thirty-five is back on the road that she should have never left” (CR).

Metro Goldwyn Mayer remade It’s a Date in 1950 with Jane Powell and Ann Southern, titled Nancy Goes to Rio, which was not as successful as its polished predecessor, despite Technicolor.

Sources:
(CR) The Complete Kay Francis Career Record by Lynn Kear & John Rossman, McFarland, 2008.
(PL) Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, McFarland, 2006.
(SM) The Star Machine, Jeanine Basinger, Vintage, 2007.


 

 Webmaster’s Review:

The film opens with Georgia Drake (Kay) singing “Gypsy Lullaby” (Kay’s lip-syncing to a previously recorded track). In the audience, Georgia’s daughter, Pam (Deanna Durbin) is mouthing the words to her mother’s singing. This is the final performance of “Gypsy Lullaby” for Georgia, who’s closing the show on Broadway that night.

At the end of the performance, the audience howls, in awe of her as a first-rate Broadway star.

Backstage, Pamela greets her mother in her dressing room. Pam is envious of her mother’s position in the theater, and is always pestering around her mother’s coworkers and, especially, Sidney Simpson, Georgia’s producer.

This pestering by Pam continues into Georgia’s after party for the closing of “Gypsy Lullaby.” There Pamela tries to upstage her own mother and impress “St. Anne” author Carl Ober. Sidney and Ober offer Georgia the part of “St. Anne”, which Georgia agrees is the best part she’s had in some time, and a role she can finally be completely identified with.

Unfortunately, Ober soon becomes less than enthusiastic about Georgia’s casting because the character is supposed to be a young girl. Sidney protests that Georgia isn’t THAT old, but Ober doesn’t want to hear it. The part of “St. Anne” must be played by a young girl.

Unbeknownst to Georgia, they’ve decided that Pam is just right for the part.

Georgia leaves for Hawaii, thinking she’s going for a vacation before preparations for “St. Anne” begin. Pam herself follows her mother to Hawaii, meeting John Arlen (Walter Pidgeon) onboard. After a weird flirtation between a 17-year-old Pamela and a 40-year-old John, they reach Hawaii where Georgia and Pam are reunited.

Pam sets up a date for her mom to meet John. When Georgia says she’s going to sleep by 8:30 to look refreshed for the part of “St. Anne”, Pam pleas with her mother that she told John he’d meet her mother and, “It’s a date!” (Hence the title.)

Anyway, Pam introduces John and Georgia. The rest of the movie becomes a sort of triangle between Pam who loves John, John who loves Georgia, and Georgia who is interested in John but slightly (and rightfully) disturbed by the idea that he might be interested in her teenaged daughter.

It plays out in a comedic style, but John declares his love for Georgia. They agree to marry, and Georgia, who still doesn’t know that Sidney and Ober think she’s too old for “Anne”, tells them she’s giving up the theater and that Pam would be right for the part.

In the end, all is right. Georgia gets John. Pam gets “St. Anne”. Sidney and Ober have a massive Broadway success.

It’s a Date was a remarkable success story for all. Although Deanna Durbin is annoying throughout most of the movie, the audience doesn’t dislike Durbin herself, but the character. She really was a great actress. Towards the end of the movie, when she’s in that odd love triangle with Kay and Walter Pidgeon, she emulates Kay’s mannerisms like resting her cheek on her hand. Durbin’s singing is absolutely beautiful, and all of the songs are fit-in perfectly. There’s no forcing the songs at all. They are performed exactly when they should be.

This is definitely one of the best musical comedies Hollywood ever produced.

In It’s a Date, Kay has one of her best freelance roles. Unfortunately, Kay does seem to disappear for about 25 minutes when her character is bound for Hawaii, but when Kay comes back onto the screen she’s fighting for (and winning) every scene for the rest of the film.

It was great that she and Durbin play a competitive mother and daughter, because their competition between one another is evident all throughout the entire film. No stories on animosity between the two, so it’s a true showcase of their talents. There are several interesting shots of Kay that allow us to see her character “thinking”. Not one of the other actors in the film gets that sort of treatment by the cameraman.

Reviewers at the time noted of how good Kay still looked, now two years free from her Warner Bros. days. There’s clear evidence why in her stunning photography in gowns by Vera West. It’s unfortunate that Kay wasn’t picked up as a contract star. She was only 35 when she made It’s a Date, and it shows that she still had that leading lady power in a first-rate production.

Watch for the scene where Pidgeon looks at a photo of Kay in a magazine. It’s a photo of her from First Lady.

The sets and costumes are excellent. Considering the majority of the films she made after this, It’s a Date can be considered the last big production she appeared in.

Walter Pidgeon is good in his role as John. It’s unfortunate he never made more movies with Kay Francis, however. They have terrific chemistry. His acting requires him to go from funny, to flirtatious, to serious, and he transitions his performance evenly. His scene where he proposes to Kay is very touching.

S.Z. Sakall is fun as Ober, who struggles with the English language throughout much of the film. And seeing Eugene Pallette and Kay interact is funny, considering his role in Girls About Town nine years earlier.

Thankfully, the only time we see Kay lip-sync is in the very beginning of the film. After that the rest of the singing is done solely by Durbin (with the exception of a few songs at the parties by the band). For me her best song in the film is “Love is All”.

Deanna Durbin, at the time one of the most popular stars in the country, has the sole star billing in this feature. But movie itself is a great showcase for not only Durbin, but Kay Francis and Walter Pidgeon as well.


 

 

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