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Nice Girl?

Nice Girl?(1941)

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teaser Nice Girl? (1941)

Why the question mark, you ask? Isn't this, after all, a movie featuring the sweetly innocent Deanna Durbin, and doesn't the question imply maybe the girl in question isn't so nice after all? Exactly the point. Although the play by Phyllis Duganne on which Nice Girl? was based came to the stage without the punctuation, producers thought that given the already virginal reputation of the film's young star, leaving her status slightly open to debate would make for better box office, especially since Durbin at 19 had blossomed into a young lady.

Always a little too eager to meddle in the affairs of grown-ups, Durbin's character here finds herself attracted to a business associate of her professor father, almost losing her longtime boyfriend in the process. The box office ante was upped even more by the casting of Robert Stack as the boyfriend. Stack had caused a minor national uproar by bestowing upon Durbin her first screen kiss in First Love (1939).

Realizing the need to give the romantically handsome young Stack a run for his money, producers cast Franchot Tone as the older man. A respected actor (and ex-husband of Joan Crawford), Tone never quite took off as a Hollywood leading man, so it wasn't that much of a come-down for him to appear in a teen comedy. Besides, the cast sported a few other notables: literary wit and occasional actor Robert Benchley as Durbin's father, wisecracking character actress Helen Broderick, and Walter Brennan, who shortly after this film's release won his third Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. To top it off, Tone came out of the project with a five year, ten-picture deal with the producing studio Universal Pictures.

For the film's finale, shortly after Stack's character goes off to serve in the army, Durbin took the stage to sing a patriotic number, "Thank You, America," shot at Fort MacArthur, California, in front of more than 200 extras. Before the film's February 1941 release, she was called back to the studio to record an alternate number, "There'll Always Be an England," for the UK release, the Battle of Britain having taken place right before production began. A third ending with Durbin singing "Thank You, America" in Spanish, was added for the Latin American release.

Durbin, of course, sings several other songs, including "Love at Last," which was a working title for the film. She did not, however, sing the song "I'm Nineteen Now," written especially for her and presented to her on her birthday at the start of production.

Returning to the question of the question mark, the New York Times noted that Nice Girl? was Durbin's first adult role and the first of her pictures to be censored. At one point, her younger sister (winningly played by Ann Gillis) reads from a true confessions magazine. Her line "I trusted Gerald until one night..." was cut from the picture.

Director: William A. Seiter
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Screenplay: Richard Connell, Gladys Lehman, based on the play Nice Girl by Phyllis Duganne
Cinematography: Joseph Valentine
Editing: Bernard W. Burton
Art Direction: Jack Otterson
Music: Frank Skinner (uncredited)
Cast: Deanna Durbin (Jane Dana), Franchot Tone (Richard Calvert), Walter Brennan (Hector Titus), Robert Stack (Don Webb), Robert Benchley (Oliver Dana)

By Rob Nixon

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