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It Started With Eve - a Ruse Gone Right?

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Dusty is an avid classic movie fan who wants to share movie stories and evoke conversation about them.

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Cast

It Started with Eve

1 hr. 30 mins Comedy, Musical, Romance 1941 7.6 stars

Director: Henry Koster

Cast: Deanna Durbin - Anne Terry

Charles Laughton - Jonathan Reynolds Sr.

Robert Cummings - J. Reynolds Jr.

Guy Kibbe - Bishop

Margaret Tallichet - Gloria Pennington

Catherine Doucet - Mrs. Pennington

Walter Catlett - Doctor Harvey

Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie

Jonathan Jr Brings His Faux Fiance to Meet His Dying Father

Charles Laughton, Robert Cummings, Deanna Durbin

Charles Laughton, Robert Cummings, Deanna Durbin

Synopsis part I

The movie opens with the press eagerly awaiting the passing of Jonathan Reynolds Sr. Mr. Reynolds is a very wealthy man and he has but one son, Jonathan Jr who has recently gotten engaged to a Miss Gloria Pennington. As the older Mr. Reynolds is lying on his death bed his son has traveled a great distance to be with him at the moment of his passing. Sr’s dying wish spoken to his son is to meet the woman he is to marry. Jr immediately rushes to his hotel to retrieve Gloria only to find that she and her mother were out shopping. In a panicked desperation he pays the coat check girl, Anne Terry, to come back to the mansion – a short distance away – and play the role of being Jr’s fiancé.

This simple deception takes place and Jonathan Reynolds Sr is satisfied that his son has finally met a woman of great beauty and character. More than satisfied, however, he’s impressed, very impressed!

During the night Jonathan Sr begins to recover from his illness and is quite well the next morning. He argues with his doctor about the breakfast menu and about his craving for cigars. When Jr comes in to see his father Sr demands to see “Gloria” again, right away. At this point I want to reiterate that the woman Jr brought to Sr was an imposter. That woman is named Anne, but he had to tell his father that her name was Gloria which is the name of his real fiancé. Anne was merely hired to satisfy the father’s curiosity while on his death bed. It’s almost as if Anne as Gloria impressed Sr so much as to revitalize him. Jonathan Jr is naturally relieved that his father has made such a remarkable recovery, but it complicates his life greatly at this point. There is fear that if he were to reveal his ruse he may trigger a relapse.

In a panic Jr tries to think of where Anne might be since she had already completed her role in the ruse and had departed. Now he desperately wants to bring her back to his father. Jr remembers that Anne had mentioned a plan to return to her hometown in Ohio. Jr then races to the train station and arrives just as Anne was about to board the train. Once again he offers her money if she would return with him and reprise her role as fiancé. She agrees and while back at the mansion meets the bishop, an important man in the city.

As Jr is escorting the bishop out of the mansion the butler receives a call from the real Gloria and the butler unwittingly lets the cat out of the bag in front of the bishop about the ruse which is innocently being played on Sr. While Jr is sweating because the real Gloria is trying to come over and meet Sr, Anne is ingratiating herself with Sr. She helps him sneak a cigar when the doctor steps out of the room.

Doctor Harvey has placed heavy restrictions on Sr and there develops a comedic tension between the two. At one point the doctor mentions Sr’s friend Leopold Stokowski, the great conductor, to which Anne’s ears perk up. Anne has been working as a coat check girl to earn enough to pay for her music lessons. She is in the city to pursue her dream of making it big as a singer. She would love to meet with Stokowski, but so far she has only met with disappointment. Anne asks if Sr could arrange for her to meet the great Stokowski and she insists on performing a number for Sr. She runs downstairs, wheels the grand piano into the foyer and begins to play and sing so loudly that it can be heard in Sr’s room. Once again Sr is impressed, so much so that he gets out of his bed and comes out to the balcony for a closer listen. Dr. Harvey does likewise. They are both enraptured by Anne’s wonderful voice. So lost in the performance is Dr. Harvey that at first he fails to notice that his deathly ill patient, Sr, is standing right beside him taking in the song too. When the doctor realizes that Sr is standing beside him he becomes apoplectic with disapproval.

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Dr. Harvey Realizes that His Patient Is Out of Bed

Charles Laughton, Walter Catlett

Charles Laughton, Walter Catlett

Synopsis II

In the meantime Jr is scheming with the real Gloria. He decides to just come clean and announce to Sr that Anne is not his fiancé. Since Anne has found out that Sr can get her in touch with important people in the music industry she most decidedly now wants to maintain the ruse until she can meet them. So when Jr comes to tell all to his father Anne makes a scene so that he can’t come clean to his father. Anne states that she and Jr had a fight and that they broke up but she wants things restored. Sr demands that they kiss and make up. In so doing Anne’s lipstick is left on Jr’s face so that when the real Gloria comes to the door she gets jealous.

Sr plans a party so that he may introduce Anne to his music celebrities and his influential friends as his future daughter-in-law. He had learned the truth, having overheard Jr and Anne talking, but decided that he preferred Anne for his son over the real Gloria who had been introduced to him under a different name. So in a way this party would serve to force Jr’s hand to drop Gloria and marry Anne.

Anne was really only in this to meet top musicians and further her career – and she was fond of Sr. In order to extricate herself out of this mess she made an agreement with Jr to skip the party so she called Sr to inform him that she never wanted to see him again. However Sr is not convinced so just after the party gets underway he sneaks out and goes to Anne’s apartment. He tells her that he knows all about the ruse, but he makes it clear that he still likes her and he invites her to a night club. Because of Sr’s notoriety a fuss is made over him. A photo is taken for the newspaper of Sr and Anne and he makes sure it is captioned that the woman in the picture is his future daughter-in-law. Sr dances with Anne and they generally have a good time. But Sr also gets the waiter to call for his son to come to the night club. When Jr arrives he blames Anne for taking Sr out clubbing; they argue until Anne throws a drink in Jr’s face.

In the next scene Jr is at the train station pleading with Anne once again not to leave, but to come visit Sr who is once more at death’s door, but when they get back to the mansion we learn that Sr is up and around, but that it is Dr. Harvey who is gravely ill. At this point Jr and Anne realize that they love each other and are destined for the altar.

Sr Hollars to Jr, "Say You'll Forgive Her"

Deanna Durbin, Robert Cummings, Charles Laughton

Deanna Durbin, Robert Cummings, Charles Laughton

Analysis

Since the first time I saw it several years ago I have included this movie within the top echelon of my favorites and the same can be said about its leading actress, Deanna Durbin. Charles Laughton is also one of my favorite actors. With all this in mind it has been a lot of fun for me to prepare this review.

It’s a simple comedy about a seemingly harmless ruse that goes awry for unexpected, but very good reasons. One of those reasons is that the protagonist who is on his deathbed at the start of the story makes a miraculous recovery and survives. That’s a good thing, right? Well not for his son. Don’t get me wrong. Jr loves his father and is happy about the recovery, but this miracle is going to cause enormous problems for the son. In order to please and honor his dying father’s wish to meet his fiancé Jr went to her hotel frantic to retrieve her before it was too late. That fiancé, however, was out shopping. Jr realized that he didn’t have the time to wait so he innocently paid the coat check girl to play the role of his fiancé so that his father would die in peace having met (or so he thought) the woman his son would marry and through whom his family would continue. What would be the harm, Jr rationalized, after all the father would be dead by morning?

What Jr didn’t count on was that the coat check girl would by her very presence and nature charm the old father and perhaps even contribute to his recovery.

Maybe in his desperate state Jr overlooked the fact that the coat check girl was pretty, but the father noticed right away. Jr could have not have found a more personable woman to meet his father, but the father realized right away that she had great character in addition to her beauty. What Jr could not have known was that the coat check girl had a wonderful singing voice, an aspect of great value to the father who was a music aficionado. What Jr had been unable to do up to this point, according to Sr, was select a girlfriend that Sr liked. To Sr all the former girlfriends which Jr brought to him were unworthy, but not this current “fiancé”, the coat check girl. In selecting her, a random selection I must emphasize, Jr had stumbled upon a winner in his father’s eyes! It is also important to again note that this current fiancé, coat check girl’s introduction to Sr coincided with the beginning of his miraculous recovery.

But Jr has a fiancé and since his father’s recovery is going well he decides to confess his ruse despite the risk that it may shock his father into a deadly relapse.

At first the coat check girl doesn’t care. She’s been paid to play the part of fiancé and she would be content to walk away, but two factors jumped into play. First, she really liked Sr and there was an instant bond. The second factor that came into play was that this coat check girl who was a talented and aspiring singer had found in Sr a wealthy patron of the musical arts. She not only likes him, he’s her ticket to a successful musical career. Jr was in over his head with this randomly selected coat check girl!

When the real fiancé, Gloria, is told about this ruse she starts out being a good sport about it all. But after a short while her tolerance wanes. Much later in the movie, when she finally meets Sr, he distains her. She is to him like all the other previous girlfriends that Jr had brought along to meet him.

When Sr learns about the ruse he sets out to woo Anne to his son. He is determined to make that relationship happen! The acorn hadn’t fallen far from the oak tree in this family and the father proved to be just as conniving as the son. He could also use a ruse to his advantage and on a grand scale. He got a photo of himself and Anne into the morning paper along with a caption introducing her as his future daughter-in-law. Although Jr and Anne were both opposed to dating each other throughout the bulk of the movie they began to warm to the notion towards the end. But the movie ends inconclusively with regard to the romance and we are left assuming that they will get together – probably. In any event Sr was able to squelch the real fiancé’s attention which he viewed as gold-digging.

The inconclusive nature of the movie leads the audience to fill in what’s missing using their own imaginations. It’s not just the romance that leaves a question mark; it’s also Anne’s music career and it’s Sr’s recovery. But all these things are left at the doorstep of foregone conclusions, especially Sr’s health. Nevertheless this method of inconclusion leaves something to be desired and for this reason I always prefer a denouement.

Sr got one other benefit from this meddling; he pushed Jr into settling down and stop playing the rich playboy. Sr wants grandchildren; he wants posterity and he knows he won’t live forever. Jr must grow up. Again, regarding this father and son duo, the acorn has not fallen far from the oak tree as Sr seems to be acting in the more youthful manner.

The doctor is also a comical figure in this movie as he is more worried for his patient, Sr, than Sr is himself. And at the end of the movie it is the doctor himself who is in grave condition.

Charles Laughton’s appetite for cigars is comical as we often see him throughout the movie trying to sneak a puff and hiding stashes throughout the house lest the doctor finds them and removes them from him. This same routine will be used again by Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution 16 years later although in that movie he was trying to hide them from his nurse who, by the way, was played by his real life wife, Elsa Lanchester.

Deanna Durbin’s singing talent was showcased as it often is in her movies. She was a lyric soprano and sang several numbers in the movie – and played the piano as well. It is really a treat to hear her sing, one of the best voices in Hollywood.

Ann Bites Jr - A Contentious Romance

Deanna Durbin and Robert Cummings

Deanna Durbin and Robert Cummings

Movie Trailer

Ann (Deanna Durbin) Sings for Sr. and Dr. Harvey Goes Crazy When He Sees Sr Out of Bed

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