Every Sunday is curiously labeled "a tabloid musical", though I imagine the word "tabloid" did not mean then what it means now. Essentially an extended screen test for two of the best girl singers in film at that time, Every Sunday on its own is simple and pleasant but important historically.
Best friends Edna (Deanna Durbin) and Judy (Judy Garland) learn that Edna's grandfather (Jack Lindquist) will lose his job as an orchestra conductor due to poor attendance at his weekly park concerts. The girls make a deal with city council officials who will let Grandpa keep his job if attendance increases at his unofficially last concert. With that, Edna and Judy drum up interest but few people actually responded.
They then hit on a big idea: they will sing two separate songs as part of the concert. Edna's operatic aria is first, and her extraordinary vocal dexterity does bring people in. Aided by her father, Judy's number is the swinging The Americana, before joining in a duet of The Americana. Their distinct styles and brilliant vocalizing are a hit and Grandpa saves his job.
The exact reason as to why Durbin's contract was allowed to lapse while Garland's was renewed is lost to history. All sorts of stories ranging from MGM head Louis B. Meyer advising the studio to "fire the fat one" to Meyer declaring both would stay but the studio receiving the order too late to get Durbin back from Universal abound. However, the end result is that Durbin did not stay at MGM and Garland did. Durbin did go on to have a strong career at Universal, essentially saving the studio from bankruptcy the same way Shirley Temple saved Twentieth Century-Fox.
Little girls did save the film industry, didn't they? Yet I digress.
As a short film, Every Sunday is sweet and simple. There isn't much room for character development, but judging by screenwriter Mauri Grashin's script he clearly favored the "Judy" character. She has a brief scene with her Pop (Richard Powell) while "Edna" has no real scenes that detail anything about her life. Moreover, apart from her exceptional operatic style "Edna" does not have a genuine character to play.
Add to that the fact that as far as I can remember, I don't even remember the name "Edna" being used at all.
In terms of acting it's the script that hampers Durbin. Her role is limited primarily to just singing, which she does with grace and elegance, quite poised for a fourteen year old. Garland, also fourteen, has the advantage here because she does have something of a character to play. In short, Every Sunday showcases that Garland can sing AND act, while it only shows that Durbin can sing. This isn't to say Durbin couldn't act, just that Every Sunday didn't allow her a chance to.
In terms of singing, both are excellent in their different styles. Durbin could never scat the way Garland could, and Garland could never trill the way Durbin could. Their concluding duet has them counter each other: for every "Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha" Durbin has, Garland has her "da-da-da-da-da". Durbin does have a beautiful voice. Garland for her part could swing like nobody's business, her joyful The Americana number fun and breezy.
While the eleven minute Every Sunday was really an excuse to essentially match up Durbin and Garland, I think director Felix E. Feist also favored Garland. She had more close-ups and seemed to be on camera more than Durbin. It's individual taste to think which one was "prettier", but Garland seems more at ease and relaxed than Durbin.
This may be due to their singing styles and choice of music. Garland's swinging The Americana is more relaxed than Durbin's elegant and more formal opera number. This allows for Garland to appear more joyful than Durbin, who has to be more refined.
It would have been a hard decision for me if I had been asked to pick which teen girl singer to choose. Both make excellent cases: Durbin's elegant voice and Garland's easy, breezy one. If push came to shove I would have chosen Garland due to seeing her act, something I did not see Durbin do (though again that was more the script than her).
In terms of the film itself Every Sunday is again on the whole uncomplicated, entertaining and highlighted with two extraordinary voices. Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland were exceptional talents who showed their prodigious talents in Every Sunday. Durbin decided to retire from the screen in 1949 age 27, withdrawing completely from the public and living in quiet seclusion with her family until her death in 2013 age 91. Garland went on to perform until her dying day in 1969 age 47.
For better or worse, Deanna Durbin is a faded name while Judy Garland is still remembered as a legend and icon. Perhaps this is what both would have wanted. However, we have Every Sunday, sweet, simple, and entertaining.
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