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Sunday, July 31, 2011

IF I HAD MY WAY (1940)

Bing Crosby’s two-fer deal @ Universal switched gears after the goofy, screwball charm of EAST OF HEAVEN’39 to maudlin sentiment & kiddie coloratura. Gloria Jean, Universal’s answer to Deanna Durbin . . . Wait! Full-stop. Deanna Durbin was at Universal! Did they really need two pubescent sopranos? (In her own way, Durbin could be very, very good, see ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL/’37. Jean, not so much. She barely lives on as the last of W. C. Fields’ child tormentors in NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK/’41.*) Here, Jean’s an orphan girl, chaperoned to NYC by Bing to meet her new guardian, Uncle Allyn Joslyn. But he can’t be bothered and fobs them onto her Great-Uncle, retired vaudevillian Charles Winninger. You probably think you can guess the rest, but it’s even worse then you could imagine; they’ve got a pet squirrel and a kindly bank manger up their narrative sleeve. And Gloria’s apt to let loose with the roulades at any time while Bing responds with his inevitable mordénts, those little vocal turns that date his otherwise impeccable vocals. Well, there must have been an audience for this mush and there is some interest in seeing Bing shed his glib manner for the first time. (Maybe not such a good thing.) Right at the end, we get to see a few old-timey vaudeville stars (Blackface ALERT!), but they must have left the best routines on the cutting room floor.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Durbin & Jean may seem hopelessly old-fashioned, yet Charlotte Church and newbies like Hannah Jewell & Jackie Evancho are pulling the same stunt for new generations . . . and with a lot less vocal allure.

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