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CAN’T HELP SINGING (director/writer: Frank Ryan; screenwriters: from a story by John Klorer and Leo Townsend/based on “Girl of the Overland Trail” by Samuel J. and Curtis B. Warshawsky/Lewis R. Foster; cinematographer: Woody Bredell/W. Howard Greene; editor: Ted J. Kent; music: H.J. Salter/songs by Jerome Kern and lyrics by E. Y. Harburg; cast: Deanna Durbin (Caroline Frost), Robert Paige (Johnny Lawlor), David Bruce (Lt. Robert Latham), Akim Tamiroff (Prince Gregory Stroganovsky), Leonid Kinskey (Koppa), Ray Collins (Sen. Martin Frost), Olin Howlin (Bigelow, Wagonmaster), Thomas Gomez (Jake Carstairs), Edward Earle (President Polk), George Cleveland (U.S. Marshal, Independance, Mo), Andrew Tombes (Sam Archer); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Felix Jackson; MCA/Universal Home Video; 1944)
“It’s the first and only film Deanna Durbin did in Technicolor.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Frank Ryan (“Patrick the Great”) helms this bouncy musical/comedy Western; it’s adapted by writer Lewis R. Foster from the book “Girl of the Overland Trail” by Samuel J. and Curtis B. Warshawsky. It’s the first and only film Deanna Durbin did in Technicolor. She’s the gal who single-handedly saved Universal from bankruptcy, as her cheery soprano voice and her charming regular gal ways wowed audiences back then. Durbin’s popularity was in decline when this pic was made, but even though this film was enjoyable and well produced it didn’t do the box office to restore her popularity. Sadly Durbin is all but forgotten today except by film buffs and her hardcore fans.

The music was lively and Durbin gracefully filled the screen, but its thin plot line of a wagon trek West held little interest. It should also be noted that Durbin was too powerful for her costar Robert Paige, who couldn’t match her in song, vigor or appeal. The excellent songs were composed by Jerome Kern and the lyrics were by E. Y. Harburg. The film reminds one of a low rent “Oklahoma!”. It has a one rousing memorable choral number with slick lyrics titled “Californ-i-ay.” The stunning costumes are matched by the sumptuous panoramic scenery, which was shot in Utah.

The film is set in the 1850s, at a time when President Polk is in office. Wily Senator Martin Frost (Ray Collins) doesn’t care too much for his pretty daughter Caroline’s (Deanna Durbin) soldier boy fianc√©, Lt. Robert Latham (David Bruce). He considers him an opportunist and forbids her to marry him. To make sure he’s not around Washington, D. C., he arranges for the secretary of war to transfer his cavalry regiment to a fort in California. Upset with her father, Caroline sneaks away to find her lover. In Independence, Missouri, despite losing her trunk and all her money buying a wagon from a con artist passing himself off as the owner, she convinces card shark Johnny Lawlor (Robert Paige) to drive her there by wagon for $10,000. She lies and says her future husband Jake Carstairs, the richest man in California, will pay him upon her arrival. Along the way Caroline has a fright when awakening to Indians surrounding her, and after not liking Johnny she soon falls madly in love with him. Also along for the bumpy ride and to supply comic relief are two bungling Eastern European con artists, Prince Gregory Stroganovsky (Akim Tamiroff and Koppa (Leonid Kinskey), who in a futile effort are trying to steal Caroline’s trunk because they mistakenly think she stores her gold there.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”