One Hundred Men a Girl stars Deanna Durbin as a young girl who wrangles a radio sponsor for an orchestra concert for her father (Adolphe Menjou) and his fellow out-of-work musicians. The catch is that she promises she can secure the talents of none other than Leopold Stokowski, arguably the most famous conductor at that time.
The slim plot didn’t seem to matter to audiences as the film proved to be a critical and popular hit. The New York Statesman raved, “[It is] useless to pretend that I am tough enough to resist the blandishments of Miss Deanna Durbin. The candid eyes, the parted lips, the electric energy, the astonishing voice; if they bowl over 50 million or so, surely a critic may be pardoned for wobbling a little on his professional base. For this is pure fairy tale; but it comes off.” The New York Times was in agreement: “One Hundred Men and a Girl reveals the cinema at its sunny-sided best.”
The film has the dubious distinction of being the only Oscar winner in a music category that doesn’t even list a composer in its credits. Charles Previn, head of the Universal Studio Music Department, took home the gold, even with an “Associate Musical Director” credit.
The “score” consists of a string of classical pieces, most of which are played onscreen. Orchestral pieces include Wagner’s Lohengrin, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, and Berlioz’s Rakoczy March. Durbin charms in the delightful “It’s Raining Sunbeams” (music by Frederick Hollander, lyric by Sam Coslow) and “A Heart That’s Free (by Alfred Robyn and T. Reily). She even tackles Mozart and Verdi’s La Traviata, acquitting herself quite nicely.
One memorable scene has Durbin coaxing Stokowski out of his study to the strains of Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. As he emerges, the camera pans down and all three floors are filled with a hundred musicians playing their hearts out. (Only in the movies, folks!)
One Hundred Men and a Girl has its charms, but under no circumstances should it ever have won the Oscar for Best Scoring, original or otherwise. Edward Connor in Films In Review pondered, “How 100 [sic] Men and a Girl won…is one of the major musical mysteries of Hollywood.” In later years, this film would have been placed in the adaptation category (and even there questions could be raised about whether or not it belonged).
Between One Hundred Men and a Girl and One Night of Love (1934), a precedent was set: If a film has a high musical cache (i.e., a story about music), then it stands a better chance of winning.