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Too Young to Kiss (1951) was the fourth of five films co-starring June Allyson and Van Johnson, MGM's wholesome, all-American boy and girl next door. The partnership struck box office gold in their first film together, Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), but MGM did not immediately capitalize on the popularity of the duo, instead pairing each with other stars for several years. (In fact, Johnson was teamed almost as frequently with Esther Williams as he was with Allyson, co-starring in four films with the aquatic star.) When Johnson and Allyson did re-team, it was for a turgid war melodrama, High Barbaree (1947). They were back in form with a romantic comedy, The Bride Goes Wild (1948), perhaps their best film together.
Too Young to Kiss was also a romantic comedy, with Allyson playing a struggling concert pianist who poses as a child prodigy in order to get an audition with impresario Johnson. Complications include Allyson's boyfriend, played by Gig Young. Johnson catches Allyson smoking and drinking and tries to "reform" her, and he is comically confused by his less-than-paternal feelings for her.
The script for Too Young to Kiss was by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the husband and wife team responsible for films such as The Thin Man (1934), and Father of the Bride (1950). While the banter in Too Young to Kiss never rises to the level of sophistication of the former, or the wit of the latter, it was, as the Variety critic noted, "an entertaining comedy...being the kind of easy fun that permits an audience to relax and chuckle without strain."
Allyson was 34, playing a woman in her 20s pretending to be a 12-year old. But even in 1951, before children became little sophisticates, a 12-year old who walks pigeon-toed, wears pinafores, and plays with teddy bears and blocks was highly unlikely. As John McCarten wrote in the New Yorker, "Miss Allyson is about as plausible in her role as Dame May Whitty would be as Cinderella." And even Johnson's boyish charm was by this time starting to cloy, according to Bosley Crowther of the New York Times. "Although he isn't supposed to pretend any less than something under 30....there are times when he, too, might merit a pinch on the cheek and a 'kitchy-kitchy coo.'"In spite of such critical barbs, Too Young to Kiss did fairly well at the box office. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Cedric Gibbons and Paul Groesse's art direction.
In real life, Allyson and Johnson were the best of friends, but were never romantically involved, contrary to what their fans believed. In her autobiography, Allyson tells a story of one Halloween that she and her husband Dick Powell and their children spent with Johnson's family, handing out candy to trick-or-treaters. At one point, Allyson and Johnson opened the door together to a group of teenagers, one of whom said to another, "See, I told you they were married in real life."
Allyson, who left MGM in 1954, would go from All-American Sweetheart to All-American Wife, playing loyal helpmeet to James Stewart (three films), William Holden, Cornell Wilde, Alan Ladd, and Leslie Nielsen. But her attempt to change her wholesome image by playing a controlling wife in The Shrike (1955) was unsuccessful. Johnson had better luck shedding his boyish image, playing a dramatic role in The Caine Mutiny (1954) on loanout to Columbia. After leaving MGM in 1956, he did a stage production of The Music Man in London in 1963, and several sophisticated comedies on stage and film. He and Allyson remained lifelong friends until Allyson's death in 2006.
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Producer: Sam Zimbalist
Screenplay: Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett, based on a story by Everett Freeman
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editor: Conrad A. Nervig
Costume Design: Helen Rose
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Music: Johnny Green
Principal Cast: June Allyson (Cynthia Potter), Van Johnson (Eric Wainwright), Gig Young (John Tirsen), Paula Corday (Denise Dorcet), Kathryn Givney (Miss Benson), Larry Keating (Danny Cutler), Hans Conried (Mr. Sparrow), Esther Dale (Mrs. Boykin).
BW-89m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri