Deanna Durbin, one of the loveliest young movie stars of the 1930s and 40s, was adored above all for her golden singing voice. Since making her film debut in the Felix E. Feist-directed short Every Sunday (1936), which co-starred Judy Garland in one of her earliest film appearances, Durbin was one of the go-to girls for musicals or any romances that gave her a chance to sing to a beau. Durbin worked with some of the most popular directors of the era, including Henry Koster (Three Smart Girls, 100 Men and a Girl, Three Smart Girls Grow Up, First Love, Spring Parade, It Started with Eve), Norman Taurog (Mad About Music), Frank Borzage (His Butler’s Sister), Robert Siodmak (Christmas Holiday) and Irving Pichel (Something in the Wind). For fans of Durbin, Christmas Holiday (1944) is clearly an atypical entry in her filmography: it is a crime drama, easily the most grim and gritty movie of Durbin’s career. Of course she still sang (most notably the standard “Always”) but the film gave her a chance to grow up a little onscreen, portraying a New Orleans nightclub singer.
The following year, Durbin starred in the noir Lady on a Train (1945), which was directed by Charles David, whom Durbin would marry in 1950 and remain with until David’s death in 1999. Lady is not the most serious-minded noir since it does incorporate some comedy, but there is a definite noir atmosphere in Durbin’s performance – again playing a night-spot chanteuse – of the Cole Porter classic “Night and Day.” The cinematography by Elwood “Woody” Bredell includes some unconventional shots filmed through some rope fixtures draped around the shadowy room. The camera also moves beautifully around Durbin, making the song (as well as the chemistry between Durbin and actor David Bruce when the film cuts back and forth between them) as potent as could be hoped for by film noir fans. It’s a scene I always remember, not only as the most memorable part of Lady on a Train but also as one of the highlights of Deanna Durbin’s time in Hollywood.