Directed by Henry Koster
Some things are definitely cute. Babies are cute. Puppies are cute. Pikachu is cute. But I hate it when people call other things cute: “That’s a cute book,” or “It was such a cute movie!” When people work hard on an artistic endeavor, they deserve to hear something more specific than the rather generic “cute”. As much as I hate it, though, I am going to have to use it now: One Hundred Men and a Girl is a cute movie.
So what’s the story? John Cardwell is a trombonist struggling to get work during the Great Depression. Every night, he waits outside the concert hall with the hope of meeting the great conductor Leopold Stokowski and getting an audition with him; however, he is never successful. After an encounter with some wealthy arts patrons who carelessly promise financial backing, his young teenaged Patricia decides she will get all the unemployed musicians together to form their own orchestra. Her grit and tenacity, along with much confusion, lead to a happy ending.
The Great: I know I don’t usually do a “great” section, but Deanna Durbin is so amazing that she needs special mention. The girl can sing. And by sing, I don’t mean that she can carry a tune or sing pop songs; Deanna Durbin had a beautiful operatic voice. She was only fifteen when One Hundred Men and a Girl was released in theaters, and it is hard to believe that she does her own singing. Not only could she sing, but Deanna Durbin could also act. She does a beautiful job in One Hundred Men and a Girl. There are moments when she’s talking fast because she’s so excited, but you can understand every word. She is completely convincing at every moment. This was my first experience with Deanna Durbin, and I remain completely blown away.
The Good: Deanna Durbin may have been the standout, but other great actors were involved in this movie. Adolphe Menjou gives a sweet performance of a man who has been ripped apart by the world, but is willing to hope again for his daughter’s sake. He goes from hopeless to grudgingly hopeful to exultant as the movie goes on. Mischa Auer brings enough humor as Michael to offset the hopelessness of the beginning. Frank Jenks brings some happy seriousness as the encouraging taxi driver, and Alice Brady is fabulous, darling as the rather thoughtless Mrs. Frost. Leopold Stokowski is a surprisingly good actor for a conductor. I have seen other real-life conductors/musicians/dancers in movies, and they are often not convincing, but Stokowski was a good actor as well as being a wonderful conductor.
The story was good. It brought the plight of people out of work because of the Depression into the forefront. It showed the good people who wanted to work, but just couldn’t find anything. It also showed the thoughtlessness of the rich. Mrs. Frost makes an impulsive promise to a young girl, then promptly forgets about it and goes out of town. She doesn’t really care about Patricia; she sees Patricia as something interesting and new in her dull, expensive life. The wealthy men who play practical jokes on each other are just as bad. While the poor are playing poker using matchsticks, these rich men bet significant amounts of money on who has the better joke. It idealizes the honest poor while uncovering the faults of the uncaring rich.
The music was awesome. I’m not sure how it was nominated for original score; most of the music was classical music. But it was amazing. I would have given them an award for best use of classical music in a musical score. The music person (not sure who it was, because there’s not really a credit for it) matched the classical music to the action perfectly. I’ve never seen it done better.
The Bad: As talented as Deanna Durbin is with both singing and acting, she has no talent for lip-syncing. By saying she’s lip-syncing, I in no way mean to imply that she is not doing her own singing. She’s just lip-syncing to her own pre-recorded singing. And she’s bad at it. At first I just thought the audio was off, but no. It’s Deanna Durbin.
Both Patricia and her father are constantly trying to get past the doorman at the theater where Stokowski works. It gets old after a bit. Repeated jokes are not as funny as people think they are.
Why do I call One Hundred Men and a Girl cute? Because it’s a well-done, happy movie with not much depth. It’s too simplistic to be anything but cute. It’s a movie you would watch when you’re feeling down and don’t want to think too much. It’s fun, but not extraordinary. It’s just…cute.
The Ugly: There is nothing ugly about this movie. It’s too cute to be ugly.
Oscar Won: Best music, score.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best writing, original story; best sound, recording; best film editing.