First off, I need to thank a very helpful person on Twitter for an obvious lead for many films that are not available on Netflix. Much gratitude and more.
I don’t know how normal it is for someone of my generation to grow up knowing who Leopold Stokowski was or to be familiar with his music, but I remember being completely enthralled by Fantasia and fascinated by that shock-haired silhouette conducting the orchestra during Toccata and Fugue sometime in my early childhood. He was mysterious, dignified, powerful and helped propel my love for art and music before I even realized my passion. I think I learned the name Stokowski not by the opening intro, but when Mickey Mouse came skipping out and tugged on his tux tail. Maybe kids just register higher voices to memory better. Anyway, as I began watching One Hundred Men and a Girl I nearly squealed with joy as I recognized an old friend leading the orchestra.
Mr. Cardwell (Adolphe Menjou) is an out of work trombone player who lurks around the theater looking for a job in Stokowski’s orchestra. One night, he is kicked out and finds a wallet on the sidewalk. Honorably, he tries to turn it in to the theater, but they assume he’s just looking to bug Stokowski and slam the door in his face. He goes home and pays the rent with the money he found, so everyone assumes he found a job. When Cardwell’s daughter, Patricia (Deanna Durbin), finds out he isn’t part of Stokowski’s orchestra she’s heartbroken and takes it upon herself to return the wallet. She finds the owner, Mrs. Frost (Alice Brady), a wealthy woman at a party. When they get to talking they get a grand idea to help out all the out of work musicians: start an orchestra. Mrs. Frost even agrees to fund it if Patricia can find the musicians. It all seems too good to be true and in the later trials Stokowski gets involved.
Durbin plays a similar role to that of an earlier film I reviewed, Three Smart Girls. She’s that meddling kid in both. Here her task is to get an orchestra together for her father and brother to play in. Though her one-liners have been toned down, I think she’s much funnier in this film, especially when it comes to physical comedy. She proves that it is much easier to hide when you’re not wearing a fancy feathered hat and that gag in the auditorium seats really had me laughing.
This time I’d like to redeem myself for the way I hacked at Durbin’s musicality in Three Smart Girls. Each of her songs have purpose to the story and reflect either how she feels or it could be part of a plan. Her first song, Raining Sunbeams, is sung because she believes her father found a job and everything it turning around. Song two takes place when she returns the wallet and in conversation she says that her father taught her to sing, so she must show the whole party her vocal chops. Song three comes as an accompaniment/ambush on Stokowski’s orchestra practice in an effort to show Stokowski that she should be taken seriously. After all, how do you get the attention of a musical genius? Show him your musical talent. And the final song is a finale.
The main reason I enjoyed this film was just to see Stokowski in a theatrical sense. In my beloved Fantasia, he only conducts and says a few words to Mickey, mostly as a silhouette. Here, he’s a full fleshed person with a face who walks, talks and is in more places than the director’s podium. Others will enjoy One Hundred Men and a Girl for lovely miss Deanna Durbin who leads the film through the plot with a few songs. If you enjoy orchestras in general, you may also enjoy this film. Otherwise, this is a good film, but you may not get that into it.
“Kids nowadays know nothing’ bout music.”