John Cardwell (Adolphe Menjou) is a struggling trombone player without an orchestra to perform with, so he is naturally desperate to see famous conductor Leopold Stokowski (as himself) in the hopes he will secure a job from him. However, he barely gets close, and is thrown out of the theatre the man has been conducting in. What to do now? He can't afford his rent and he and his teenage daughter Patricia (Deanna Dubin) will be evicted if he can't pay his landlady. Then, as luck would have it he notices a purse stuffed with cash dropped on the sidewalk; he looks around for the owner but she has left and Cardwell could really use that money...
Before you say anything about that title, rest assured this is a wholesome film through and through, one of the works that starred Durbin and helped save Universal from bankruptcy thanks to its popularity. Scripted by Bruce Manning, Charles Kenyon and James Mulhauser from Hans Kraly's idea, it was a typical production from family entertainment expert Joe Pasternak, and one of the few Durbin films that really stand up today as still unironically enjoyable.
You can genuinely see the appeal of the star in this, as the ideal daughter who manages to get everyone working together for the common good, and not only that but has a fine, clear singing voice as well for those musical interludes. You're backing Patricia, or Patsy as she's known, all the way in her scheme to find work for dear old dad and his out of work musician friends (ninety-nine of them). Despite being thought of as the epitome of sweetness and light, the film makes no bones about how hard it was during the Depression and the desperation of the lower class characters is keenly portrayed.
Initially, Cardwell makes up a story about being accepted by Stokowksi's orchestra and naturally everyone who knows him is delighted, most of all Patsy. But after she secretly goes to the concert hall and discovers her father is nowhere to be seen, she realises he has been lying and he has to tell her the truth when he returns home. Every bit the honest girl, Patsy takes the purse back to the society lady who lost it, and asks for her money to be refunded as she cannot pay up herself. The lady - Mrs Frost (Alice Brady) - and her friends are quite taken with her honesty and invite our heroine to have something to eat before she goes, which leads to the main plot.
This being that classical music fan Mrs Frost agrees to sponsor the hundred musicians and give them work, but oh dear, she hasn't told her purse-string-holding husband (Eugene Pallette) who thinks the whole idea is a practical joke played on him by a fellow gentleman's club member. It looks as if tragedy is looming for Patsy and the people she's trying to help - if only she could get to Stokowski and make him listen to reason. It might not be much of a surprise how this turns out as some fairy tales do come true in spite of what Cardwell says, but One Hundred Men and a Girl is charming from its opening to its sentimental finale. You have to have a heart of coldest ice not to be moved by all this sweetness; it may sound like damning the film with faint praise to call it "nice", but that's what it is, thoroughly nice.