July 30, 2011

It Started With Eve (1941)

Arguably Deanna Durbin’s best movie is It Started With Eve (1941). In addition to near perfect casting, the script brings the romantic comedy genre up a notch or two.

Unable to find his fiancée in time, business tycoon Johnny Reynolds (Robert Cummings) pays struggling singer Ann Terry (Durbin) to pretend to be his fiancée for a few moments to please his fatally ill father, Reynolds Sr. (Charles Laughton).  The deceit goes awry when Reynolds the elder regains his health the next morning and expects the two to marry soon. Johnny’s actual, gold-digging fiancée Gloria Pennington (Margaret Tallichet) is not happy with this arrangement.

It’s difficult to explain how this standard plot is better than that of many other romantic comedies. Perhaps it is the genuine warmth communicated between Reynolds and the woman he believes is his potential daughter-in-law. When Johnny thinks of a scheme to undo the lies he’s perpetuated - stating that he and his fiancée quarreled and parted ways - Reynolds the elder looks absolutely crushed, as if she had broken up with him personally.

Perhaps the movie is a success because the older person is not scripted as a buffoon or idiot - a  common occurrence among romcoms where juveniles arrange everything themselves. He is not just an obstacle to the young man’s plans but one who catches on to the scheme and begins manipulating the situation to bring about what is ultimately best for everyone.

The film stands squarely above the rest due to Laughton’s well-established reputation as a dramatic actor.  The script helps him out as well. In addition to the early deathbed scene that instantly brings the audience on Laughton’s side emotionally,  Ms. Durbin’s romantic lead, Cummings, is not allowed to show very much affection for Ann until Gloria is out of the picture. This leaves Durbin’s character to play out the deeper, heartfelt moments with Reynolds Sr..Laughton is Ms. Durbin’s equal in screen presence, a rarity among her leading men.

However, Cummings is not an also-ran here. He’s asked to do the heavy lifting  in the comedy department and he does it well. From pretending he’s in love with a girl that he’d rather strangle [“If you hear something snap, don‘t turn around it‘ll be your neck”] to the awkwardly sensual game of tag that Ann and Johnny play, Cummings will have you in stitches throughout the film.
The movie’s supporting players carry their own weight as well, of course  - the running gag of Walter Catlett as the attending physician who himself is comically ill with mysterious symptoms; Clara Blandick as the fastidious nurse who will not leave Reynolds Sr. in peace; Leon Belasco’s hilarious solemnity as the couturier who lays out Gloria‘s prematurely-bought mourning clothes.

It Started With Eve is a charming and sophisticated comedy that will please a wide range of audience members.

Further Resources

  • Charles Laughton and Susanna Foster in It Started With Eve from 

The Lux Radio Theater November 20, 1944.
Listen to the radio program now: (Flash player required)
(Duration: approximately 50 minutes)


  1. This is one of my favorites of hers! It was the one that got me and my stuck on her!

  2. Audrey, this is a great film for anyone to get hooked on Ms. Durbin.
    Deanna Durbin is especially gorgeous in the film. Director Henry Koster attributes this to cameraman Rudy Maté - "The shots he did were absolutely brilliantly elegant, and the close-ups of women were unbelievably fascinating."

    Koster also considers Cummings "the best leading man I've ever worked with. He had that marvelous comedy talent and also a romantic quality."

    - Java

  3. Durbin and Laughton are one of my favorite screen teams. They are so much fun to watch together!

  4. Tom, N and CF, is passing the "The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award", to your wonderful blog. Please stop by N and CF to pick up your award.

  5. Seeing your posting i just played this movie again.
    She looked so gorgeous and acted so pure. It is even easy to think that she, in spite of the skript, in real live should have responded to the situations in the movie in the same manner.
    It is very enjoyable to visit your excellent site from time to time.
    May Deanna be blessed for ever.

  6. Jan, it is always a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you for stopping by to visit. Watching a Deanna Durbin film can be like taking a breath of fresh air. Especially nowadays when virtually every romantic comedy is filled with profanity, sexual innuendo, etc.