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Daddy Long Legs

Daddy Long Legs(1955)

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Daddy Long Legs, Fox's impossibly romantic musical from 1955, stars Fred Astaire as Jervis Pendleton III, a multi-millionaire who has kept the family fortune growing while having as much fun as he can. Despite his footloose nature, he has an unerring eye for investments and is controlling share holder in several major companies, as well as having the honor of occasionally being appointed to government committee.

It is in the latter role that Jervis finds himself travelling on a rural road through French farmland, along with several other committee members, on their way to Paris. When their car becomes stuck in a mud-hole, Jervis leaves the group to try to find a farmhouse or village from which he can call for help. What he finds instead is a remote orphanage, run by a refreshingly forthright, aging matron, whose only help comes from the orphanage's oldest inmate, the eighteen-year-old waif Julie Andre (Leslie Caron), who shows signs of having talent and charm to spare.

When Jervis finally reaches Paris he meets with the American Ambassador (Larry Keating), to look into the possibility of setting up an endowment for the girl, using one of the Pendleton industries many charitable venues, to send her to Walston College (which is heavily endowed by Pendleton, and so can be relied on to accept the girl without question). The Ambassador is at first appalled by the idea, warning Jervis of the sinister spin that could be put on the situation if anyone were to discover that it is Jervis himself who is manipulating things for the young woman. But he is finally swayed when Jervis assures him that everything will be handled through Pendleton industries, and that he will have no contact with the girl whatsoever.

Virtually overnight Julie is ensconced in the ivied walls of Walston with a complete new wardrobe, her roommate just happening to be Jervis' niece Linda (Terry Moore), and with instructions that her only duty in accepting this generous endowment is that she is to write her benefactor once a month at a post office box kept under the name John Smith, and let him know how she is doing. The only thing she knows about him is that his shadow was seen thrown in relief against the inner wall of the orphanage the night that he visited there to finalize the arrangements: because the shadow legs were elongated, she always thinks of him as Daddy Long Legs.

Although Julie is deliriously happy with her new-found good fortune, she finds it increasingly frustrating that she writes to her benefactor every month, and he never replies, even when she asks him questions. In a wonderful dance sequence, Astaire acts out Julie's fantasies about what her benefactor is like: first she imagines him to be a Texas millionaire—which has Astaire dancing in cowboy boots—then a international playboy, and finally as her guardian angel, allowing a nice dance between Astaire and Caron.

It isn't until Julie's third year at college that Jervis decides he must see how she has progressed. Since he can quite naturally visit his niece Linda without giving any reason for Julie to suspect that he's her benefactor, he calls and tells Linda that he's coming out to visit, and the time he chooses just happens to be the date of the school's annual dance. There Jervis and Julie finally meet, and the rapidly maturing Julie proves to have added poise and a certain sophistication to the charms Jervis first saw in her. They strike an instant rapport that is solidified when the two join into the massive "Sluefoot" dance that the pair end up leading.

Soon after Jervis invites Linda and Julie to visit him in New York, where he has rented a room for them in a luxury hotel. When he meets the plane, he finds that Julie has come alone, Linda begging off with a cold. Jervis takes her dining and dancing, and romance is obviously blooming. But in a twist lifted directly from Noel Coward's Private Lives, the American Ambassador to France just happens to be staying in the suite next to Julie. While breakfasting on the balcony the morning after Jervis' night on the town, the Ambassador overhears them talking, as Julie pours out her heart about wonderful the evening was. The Ambassador intercedes by phone and reminds Jervis that he brought the girl into this country with the help of the American Embassy, and that a breath of scandal would prove disastrous for all involved. Despite his feelings for Julie, Jervis realizes the truth in this and decides to go away. But his faithful assistant, Griggs (Fred Clark), and his equally loyal and efficient secretary Alicia Pritchard (the great Thelma Ritter) conspire to bring him back and unite him with Julie.

Daddy Long Legs is a highly romantic musical that miraculously pulls everything together seamlessly despite the fact that it is very unconventional musical: there is really very little music, and only one song. Fine use is made of Johnny Mercer's wonderful "Something's Gotta Give" for the transition from benefactor and student to equals. In fact, the scene is handled so flawlessly that there isn't a hint that anything could be considered wrong with Jervis and Julie making the transition: it seems perfectly natural.

Both of the stars are in top form. Astaire is well over twice Caron's age, and yet even though he's supposed to be an older man, he doesn't look older, he looks ageless. Caron is astonishing in her growth from giddy freshman to poised young woman, and gets to shine on her own in the fascinating dream ballet sequence in which she dances through several settings trying to connect with Jervis. The stars are given fine support by Clark as the irascible Griggs, and Thelma Ritter, who as far as I'm concerned could do no wrong, as the sympathetic secretary.

Warner Bros.' new dvd offers a splendid transfer from nearly pristine source material, and includes an audio commentary from Ava Astaire McKenzie and film historian Ken Barnes, along with archival comments from Johnny Mercer; still photo gallery; trailers; and collectible lobby cards.

For more information about Daddy Long Legs, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Daddy Long Legs, go to TCM Shopping.

by Fred Hunter