July 10, 2011

The Amazing Mrs Holliday (1943)

Deanna plays a schoolteacher in China who must flee with a group of orphans after the Japanese attack her village.

In a more dramatic role that usual, Deanna Durbin is wonderful in her role as Ruth, a young missionary who rescues a group of orphans from war-torn China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The film begins with Ruth - an orphan herself - and the children arriving in San Francisco on a lifeboat after their ship was torpedoed by the Japanese, killing the elderly captain - Commodore Tom Holliday. A sailor aboard the ship (Barry Fitzgerald) is the only other survivor of the attack, and he accompanies Deanna and the children to shore. He also leads them to help at the Holliday Mansion - and provides some comic relief along the way.

Ruth poses as Holliday's widow and attempts to shelter the children in the mansion, but has to fool all of the residents including the butler (Arthur Treacher) and the Commodore's grandson (Edmund O'Brien). Barry Fitzgerald is funny as he conjures up an impromptu tale about their marriage.

The film was nominated for an Oscar for
Best Music Score. 
As you can imagine, there are some adorable sequences featuring the children. Deanna also sings a few lullabies to them. During a fundraising event, Deanna sings "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca.

For awhile it almost felt like an autobiographical film, though this film is not based on any one missionary in particular. Though there are some humorous moments of mistaken-identity typical of a Deanna film, there are some sad flashback scenes that are reminders of the harsh realities of war, and I was reminded of the work and devotion of overseas missionaries like the one Deanna plays in the film. By the end of the film, though, I was reminded that this is a Hollywood story.

More photos from the movie can be found here at Deanna Durbin Devotees.

Read more about the child actors in the film in another review of this film from Laura at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings.


  1. This is actually my favorite Deanna Durbin movie! She looks beautiful, it was back when Edmund O'Brien was still handsome (haha).

    I have to admit, there are parts that make me cry to. I wish this one was on DVD!

  2. Excellent point, Tom, about the dichotomy of tone and focus. I feel the same way.

    It's as though the first half - when Deanna Durbin's character is telling her backstory as a missionary and saving the orphans,etc. - is a completely different film from the latter half when the whole group sets up camp in a New York mansion and hilarity ensues.

    The film opens with emphasis on the U.S. military's involvement with war orphans, and there's a long shot of the young children huddled together near a mast on a Navy vessel with an adult civilian beside them. Although we hear her voice and know exactly who the young lady is, Durbin's back is to the camera for quite a bit. She's wearing a man's overcoat several sizes too large for her frame and her hairstyle is not fashionable. Wonderful!

    I immediately understood the film's message since the there was no glitz or glam, the situation is serious and relentlessly realistic in tone, which is as it should be. In an era of many war aid movies, this one stands out as almost like watching a documentary.

    This may seem weird or inappropriate, but I actually smiled during that first few minutes of THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY, because you could tell Durbin's heart was in this, because after so many years of struggling to get something other than bubblegum roles she finally has one.

    Watching those first few minutes I was so excited for Deanna Durbin! However, it seems our star achieved her goal as a matter of necessary compromise. At around the 45 minute mark, Durbin's character gets a makeover and does some comic business about not knowing how to walk in heels; there's no turning back to the serious drama.

    The latter half is closer to the familiar Durbin formula - mistaken identity, the cute male lead who you know will fall in love with this amazing woman, frothier music. Even the lighting is brighter during the comedy half.

    The change is jarring. But if you look at the film as an entree (1st half) and the dessert (2nd half), it's not so bad.

    Great review, Tom.

    - Java

  3. The difference in mood between the two parts of the film may be explained by the fact that, according to Deanna, an uncredited Jean Renoir, hired by Universal to help develop a new image for Deanna, directed 2/3 of the released version of MRS HOLLIDAY before leaving the film due (allegedly) to the flare up of an old War injury.

    The "second half" of the film, most likely consists of footage shot by credited director Bruce Manning, who had the unenviable task of creating a viable film out of the footage shot by Renoir following Renoir's departure.

  4. Thanks for the backstory, Mark.

    - Java

  5. You're welcome, Java. Reflecting on the film, Deanna opined that six of her movies should never have been made. Although she didn't name the six films, she did say that of the six THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY may deserve the booby prize" as the worst of them all.

    I don't agree with that opinion, and I (think) Deanna's attitude toward it may have softened later on. Still, even though she was always gracious about the film's troubled production, I can understand why she was deeply disappointed that Jean Renoir didn't complete the film.

    Who knows what it would have been like if he had?