Deanna Durbin, Robert Stack, and Franchot Tone in Nice Girl? (1941)



(director: William A. Seiter; screenwriters: Richard Connell/from the play “Nice Girl” by Phyllis Duganne; cinematographer: Joseph Valentine; editor: Bernard W. Burton; music: Frank Skinner; cast: Deanna Durbin (Jane ‘Pinky’ Dana), Franchot Tone (Richard Calvert), Walter Brennan (Hector Titus), Robert Stack (Don Webb), Robert Benchley (Prof. Oliver Wendel Holmes Dana), Helen Broderick (Cora Foster), Ann Gillis (Nancy Dana), Anne Gwynne (Sylvia Dana), Leonard Carey (The Butler, Upton); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joe Pasternak; MCA Universal; 1941)
“Deanna Durbin in her first grown-up role.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Former artist and writer William A. Seiter (“If I Had A Million”/”Sons of the Desert”/”Dimples”) efficiently directs this romantic musical, that has Deanna Durbin in her first grown-up role. It’s based on the play “Nice Girl” by Phyllis Duganne and is written by Richard Connell. It plays out as amusing fluff, with small-town American patriotism stirring throughout.

The nice guy widowed scientist/high school principal Oliver Wendel Holmes Dana (Robert Benchley) lives in the Connecticut suburbs in a fictitious village called Greenleaf (Fairfield County) with his three very intense daughters, the oldest is the aspiring actress Sylvia (Anne Gwynne), the predictable well-behaved teenager is Jane (Deanna Durbin), and the pesty youngest adolescent is Nancy (Ann Gillis). Loyal housekeeper Cora (Helen Broderick) takes care of the family, and also tries to fight off the unwanted advances of busybody mail carrier Hector Titus (Walter Brennan).

When the 36-year-old bachelor NYC adventurer and world-traveler Richard Calvert (Franchot Tone) visits Oliver over his institute’s interest in his experiments with rabbits for a better nutrition, Jane makes a play for the much older man. She purposely gets Richard to miss his train home so that she can drive him back in her trusting boyfriend Don Webb’s (Robert Webb) custom made car. When it rains and she doesn’t know how to keep the top of the convertible down, Richard lets her stay for the night in his empty house and lets her borrow his kid sister’s red pajamas while the butler tends to her wet clothes. Richard treats her in a fatherly way and rebuffs her advances, but she gets hopping mad at this rejection and returns home in the morning but her noisy car awakens every gossip in her hometown and the neighbors have a field day gossiping about her virtue. After a series of misunderstandings, Jane tries to clear her name with her supportive dad and the supportive Don standing in her corner.

Universal added a cutesy alternate ending to pique audience curiosity about whether she is indeed a nice girl, as if you can ever imagine Durbin not being one.

The songs include: “Old Folks at Home,” “Perhaps,” “Love at Last,” “Beneath the Lights of Home” “Thank You America,” and “There’ll Always Be an England.”