Jane Broadbent (Sandra Dee) has been brought up by her American mother, but Jane's British father (Rex Harrison) and particularly her glamorous new stepmother (Kay Kendall) insist that Jane have a proper "coming out" during the London season. Jane is flung into the social whirl, where she is THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE...until she meets a handsome drummer, David (John Saxon).
I found this film very enjoyable. The young sweethearts are appealing, and there is a charming innocence to their courtship, not to mention a fairy tale ending. Harrison and Kendall, who were also married in real life at the time, are quite amusing. Harrison is a bemused good sport about all the goings-on, while Kendall combines elegance with a penchant for pratfalls. Angela Lansbury also provides comedic support as a distant cousin who is a gossipy chatterbox.
Sadly, this was Kay Kendall's next-to-last film; she died the year after this film was released. She was only 33.
The film references that Jane's debut season, 1958, was the last year debutantes were presented to the Queen. I saw an exhibit on this very topic, called The Last Debutantes, at Kensington Palace in May. One of the most interesting parts of the exhibit was a wall featuring all the invitations received during that season by a single debutante; the number was astounding. Being a debutante really was a full-time job, as hinted at by Jane's nightly social life in the movie. The book LAST CURTSEY: THE END OF THE DEBUTANTES is an interesting social history on this era.
In 2003 THE RELUCANT DEBUTANTE was loosely remade as WHAT A GIRL WANTS starring Colin Firth, Amanda Bynes, and Kelly Preston.
THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE was directed by Vincente Minnelli. It runs 94 minutes and was shot in Metrocolor and CinemaScope. The supporting cast includes Diane Clare as Lansbury's daughter and Peter Myers as her crush.
Sandra Dee's beautiful gowns were designed by Helen Rose, whose most famous creation may have been the wedding dress of Princess Grace of Monaco. Rose won Oscars for THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952) and I'LL CRY TOMORROW (1955). She was nominated for several other films including EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954) and INTERRUPTED MELODY (1955).
THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE is available on VHS. To date it has not had a DVD release.
It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it next airs August 23, 2009. The trailer can be seen here.