Once upon a time, you could win a music Oscar without a composer. Throw in some high-brow classical pieces, a world-renowned conductor, and like sheep, Academy voters followed in line.
In ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL, Deanna Durbin 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. It’s a slim plot, but the film proved to be a critical and popular hit.
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 (whose cousin’s son is none other than André), took home the gold, even with an “Associate Musical Director” credit.
The “score” consists of nothing more than a string of classical pieces strung together, most of which serve as source music 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.
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, especially against far superior scores such as Alfred Newman’s THE HURRICANE and THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, and Dimitri Tiomkin’s LOST HORIZON. Edward Connor in Films In Review pondered, “How 100 [sic] Men and a Girl won…is one of the major musical mysteries of Hollywood.”
Between ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL and the first Oscar winner for Best Scoring, ONE NIGHT OF LOVE (1934), a precedent was set for the later Original Score category–If a film has a high musical cache, then it stands a better chance of winning. Occasionally we film music fans would get lucky (John Corigliano’s outstanding score for THE RED VIOLIN), other times not so much (Herbie Hancock’s rehash of jazz standards in ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT).