Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Daddy Long Legs (1955)

This seems to be Fred Astaire-Johnny Mercer week! In the last few days I've watched THE BELLE OF NEW YORK (1952) and THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943), which both had Mercer-Arlen scores. Tonight's movie was DADDY LONG LEGS, with a Mercer score including the Oscar-nominated "Something's Gotta Give."

DADDY LONG LEGS is Jervis Pendleton (Astaire), who spots Julie (Leslie Caron) working at a French orphanage and decides to anonymously provide her with a scholarship to attend college in America. Julie writes letters to her benefactor, but "Daddy Long Legs" never responds. A couple years go by and Jervis reads all the letters, meets Julie, and you can probably guess the story from there.

I think I may have been a bit prejudiced against this film in the past because it's based on a favorite book, Jean Webster's DADDY-LONG-LEGS, and I was unhappy that the film changed the book considerably, not least by turning heroine Judy Abbott into Julie Andre, a French orphan. I'm now better able to separate book and film and enjoy each on its own terms...but I highly recommend the book! I first read it in junior high and looked for my own copy for years before discovering a hardcover edition in Harrod's in London, of all places. The book was written in 1912; the equally wonderful sequel, DEAR ENEMY (1915), is about Judy's friend Sallie, played in the film by Charlotte Austin.

Astaire and Caron are both delightful, as one might expect. They have a good rapport, despite the age difference, and some wonderful dances, including "Something's Gotta Give" and the big college dance number "Slue Foot." The film might not be one of Astaire's best, but it's colorful, entertaining, and has some scenes which are musical magic.

The supporting cast includes Terry Moore as Julie's roommate, Fred Clark and Thelma Ritter as Jervis's employees, and Larry Keating as the U.S. Ambassador to France, plus Ray Anthony and His Orchestra.

Kelly Brown, who plays Jimmy McBride, had previously played Carl, one of the "town" suitors, in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954). He also danced in OKLAHOMA! (1955) and had a good-sized role in THE GIRL MOST LIKELY (1958), an underappreciated Jane Powell musical set on California's Balboa Island. His daughter, dancer Leslie Browne, was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for THE TURNING POINT (1977).

The film was directed by Jean Negulesco. Negulesco's own life slightly paralleled the movie, as he married a woman who was considerably younger, model-actress Dusty Anderson. They were married until his death nearly 47 years later. Negulesco and Anderson were both very interested in art; the DVD brochure provides the information that Negulesco himself painted the Picasso-like portrait of Astaire used in the film. The paintings hanging in Astaire's mansion were genuine works of art owned by the Negulescos' friends.

The movie runs 126 minutes and was shot in CinemaScope. The screenplay is by Henry and Phoebe Ephron -- parents of Nora Ephron (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, YOU'VE GOT MAIL). The cinematography is by the great Leon Shamroy (THE BLACK SWAN, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN). In addition to Best Song, the film was nominated for Best Scoring (Alfred Newman) and Best Art and Set Decoration; I especially love the design of Jervis's office.

DADDY LONG LEGS is available in a beautiful DVD print as part of the Fox Marquee Musicals series. Extras include a commentary by historian Ken Barnes and Fred Astaire's daughter, Ava Astaire McKenzie. I haven't yet heard this commentary, but Barnes and McKenzie did a terrific job on the commentary for HOLIDAY INN (1942).

DADDY LONG LEGS is also available on VHS.


Blogger Missy said...

It's been so long since I saw this movie and a few others you've mentioned lately, that I can't really comment on them. However, the novel is available for free on Project Gutenberg if anyone is interested.


7:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for that info, Missy! It's a wonderful book, it's good to know it's so readily available.

Best wishes,

8:44 PM  

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