Saturday, February 13, 2016

Franchot Tone and Deanna Durbin: Underrated Onscreen Couple

"If all young ladies of nineteen were as naturally lovely, unaffected, talented, and intelligent as Deanna Durbin, America would indeed be the land of the Pilgrim's Pride."
                              -Franchot Tone, Modern Screen, Dec 1940 - Nov 1941
Shared with me by James de Menna

As a part of Second Sight Cinema's You Must Remember This…A Kiss Is Just a Kiss blogathon, I'm covering the onscreen kisses and romance between Franchot and Deanna Durbin. To see all of the great posts on classic film kisses, make sure to check out the roster of blogs participating in the blogathon.

Franchot and Deanna Durbin starred in three romantic films together between 1941 and 1946. Each film includes music, mix-ups, laughs, and passion! I want to warn those that have not watched these films that this post includes spoilers.

Nice Girl? (1941)

Shared with me by James de Menna.

Shared with me by James de Menna.

Nice Girl? (1941). source:

Nice Girl?, 1941. Source:

Nice Girl? (1941) marks the first pairing of Franchot and Deanna. In the film, Deanna plays Jane,  a sweet teenager who doesn't appreciate being labeled a "nice girl". Jane is going steady with Don (Robert Stack), but is frustrated by his distraction and lack of passion. When the older, suave Richard Calvert (Franchot Tone) comes to meet Jane's father, Oliver, a scientist and candidate for a fellowship, Jane develops an instant crush. Richard is flattered by Jane's attempt at romance, but views her as a nice, young girl. When Jane is stuck at Richard's house overnight, he gently rebuffs her advances. Eager to shed her good girl image, Jane tells her family and classmates that she and Richard are in love and that they will be married.

The kiss happens at a dance. Not knowing of Jane's boasting, Richard is congratulated on his engagement.

Jane begs him to play along to help her gain a bit of notoriety. A nice guy himself, Richard obliges, kissing Jane in front of everyone, and then allowing her to publicly jilt him.

The plan works! Don finally notices Jane and they rekindle their relationship. Although Franchot and Deanna's characters are not a couple in the end, the confrontation and kissing scene at the dance is still a really funny, romantic moment. It's clear that if Deanna's character were a bit older, she and Franchot's character would make a great couple...which is exactly what happens in their next film together.

His Butler's Sister (1943)

His Butler's Sister, 1943. Source:

Photo shared by James de Menna

Photo shared by James de Menna

Photo shared by James de Menna

Photo shared by James de Menna

His Butler's Sister (1943) is unquestionably one of my favorite film romances of all time. If you watched Nice Girl? and wished that somehow Franchot and Deanna could have fallen in love at the end, you will not be disappointed with their second film. It is perfectly romantic in every way. Ann Carter (Durbin) is on a train to visit her brother when she hears that the famous composer Charles Gerard (Tone) is in a nearby compartment. Unaware that he has already exited the train, Ann mistakenly sings to the man she thinks is Gerard. When she arrives in the city, Ann realizes that her brother Martin is actually the composer's butler and Charles believes her to be the new maid. Ann takes every opportunity to sing for and be discovered by Charles, but brother Martin interferes each time.

Soon, Ann and Charles become attracted to each other and after a long conversational walk home, they share a most romantic kiss. The kiss begins off-camera. We see Charles take off his hat and lean toward Ann as the elevator doors close. Then, we see the elevator moving slowly up 22 floors and then opening at the penthouse level. Ann and Charles are in full embrace as the doors open and they walk slowly with their arms around each other into the penthouse.

At Ann's room, they kiss goodnight. It is such a romantic scene! The walk home, the elevator kiss, the slow walk from the elevator to Ann's's all pure magic. Their romance is so beautifully conveyed by Franchot and Deanna and the way these moments are shot create this lovely, dreamy scene.

Equally romantic to the kisses is the hug at the very end of the film. The way Ann runs off the stage and straight into Charles' arms at the end of her song provides a flawless final shot. You see, after they fall in love earlier in the film, they are quickly torn apart by Ann's brother. Concerned about his job and his sister, Martin sabotages their relationship. Because he is not aware that Martin and Ann are siblings, Charles believes that Martin has designs on Ann himself. In the final scene, Charles sees Ann perform for the first time. Drawn to her, Charles begins to move closer and closer to the stage. When she sees him, Ann's entire face lights up and then the running embrace happens. You must watch it! There's nothing better.

Because of Him (1946)

Because of Him, 1946. Source:

Because of Him, 1946. Source:

Because of Him, 1946. Source:

Because of Him, 1946. Source:

In their final pairing Because of Him, Franchot and Deanna's characters have a love-hate-then love relationship. Well, Franchot's character does, at least! Deanna's character is pretty indifferent to Franchot's character in the beginning. Kim Walker will stop at nothing to land an acting role opposite her idol John Sheridan (brilliantly played by Charles Laughton). It's a bit similar to His Butler's Sister in that, at the beginning of each film, Deanna's character is ambitious and constantly seeking ways to break into the business, but Kim Walker's game plan is much more obvious, which is what irks playwright Paul Taylor (Franchot). On first sight, Paul is attracted to Kim and uses lots of pick-up lines on her. Fully knowing what Paul's up to, Kim keeps her eye on the prize: a part in a John Sheridan play, which happens to be written by Paul. Paul wants an experienced actress for the part and is frustrated that the inexperienced Kim schemes her way into Sheridan's circle.

When newspapers carry a story that Kim attempted suicide, Paul feels bad over his treatment of her and rushes to her with his play script in hand. When Paul sees Kim's sincerity, he kisses her tenderly out on the patio. Paul says that he never realized how young, beautiful, and full of fire Kim is and that she is perfect for his play.

Similar to His Butler's Sister, things go awry after their kiss. Paul discovers that the suicide headline was a publicity stunt to get Sheridan's attention. He blames Kim and storms out of her apartment (what Paul doesn't know is that Kim was not responsible for the story.) An outraged Paul refuses to have his name attached to the play after Kim is cast. But curiosity and his enduring feelings for Kim get the better of him and Paul sneaks into the theater. When he sees Paul watching from backstage, John Sheridan changes the ending of the play sending Kim straight into Paul's arms.

And opens the curtains so that the audience can see the kiss for themselves!

If you've not seen these three films and you don't mind that I've described their plots here, I recommend watching them. Franchot and Deanna are a highly underrated onscreen couple and their three collaborations are not as celebrated today as I feel they should be. Nice Girl?, His Butler's Sister, and Because of Him are delightful comedies, full of tenderness, great chemistry,  and, of course, lovely musical scenes from Deanna.

Thanks to Second Sight Cinema for hosting a blogathon perfect for Valentine's Day and for letting me be a part of it! Also, thanks to James de Menna for kindly sharing many photos of Franchot and Deanna with me over this past week.

1 comment:

  1. Your blog is great. I feel so privileged to come across it. I am an Indian admirer of the great actor Franchot Tone. I am a fan of classic Hollywood movies too. So I am going to read your posts regularly. Tone is really one of the most unedrrated actors of hollywood(I think because of his political convictions). I wish you could post more about him and other classic movies(movies with real issues and realistic actors,as Franchot had said) and actors too. There is not much information about him in the internet. So this blog was really needed. People need to know the actor Franchot, not Joan Crawford's husband.