Posted by KC on Aug 4, 2016
As a Kay Francis and Deanna Durbin completist, I was delighted to see the pair starring in the recent Warner Archive release of It's a Date (1940), which is making its DVD debut. The first of four films Durbin would make with director William Seiter at Universal Studios, it's a breezy, charming little flick.
Francis is Broadway musical star Georgia Drake and Durbin is her adoring daughter Pam, who wants to follow in her mother's footsteps. After securing a promising new part written by playwright Karl Ober (S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall in his Hollywood film debut), Georgia travels to Hawaii to rest and prepare for her role. However, while she is gone Pam impresses Ober with her dramatics and he decides she is a more appropriate age for the part. She doesn't realize she has won the role away from Georgia.
Hoping to get acting guidance from her mother, Pam takes a ship to Hawaii. On board she meets millionaire John Arlen (Walter Pidgeon), and mistakes his attempts to lighten her mood for blossoming love. When she arrives in Hawaii, Pam learns the truth about the part, and plans to quit acting and marry John, who has quickly fallen for Georgia. There are many misunderstandings, but of course not anything these three can't handle.
While It's a Date is the best of her work with Seiter, who also made several musicals with Shirley Temple, it falls somewhere in the middle of her filmography overall, more amusing than her later movies, but not quite as slick or witty as earlier efforts like First Love (1939) or It Started With Eve (1941) the following year.
Durbin and Francis have an intriguing chemistry. They don't seem like mother and daughter, maybe more like sisters, but they exude the easy intimacy of a strong family relationship. Durbin found a similarly warm, and even more profound onscreen connection with Charles Laughton in Eve. She had a knack for making her costars seem to be at ease, which also extends to Pidgeon, who seems at ease in a looser, less dramatic part than the kind he would play later in his career.
While an unadorned soprano voice was Durbin's ticket to fame, she has presence beyond her musical ability. The scenes between songs could have stood alone as a solid comedy. Still, watching her croon Love is All to her beaming mother or moving an audience as she stands motionless singing a flawless rendition of Ave Maria is mesmerizing. Durbin didn't need elaborate production numbers or costumes to cast a musical spell.
The picture quality is essentially good, but low for a Warner Archives release. There are some noticeable lines and scratches, some that stay on the image for several minutes. The sound also seemed a bit scratchy at times. These issues are not likely to be deal breakers for Durbin fans eager to own this enjoyable film on DVD.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.