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Daddy Long Legs

Posted by martinteller on May 1, 2013

Jervis Pendleton III (Fred Astaire) is a carefree bajillionaire who’s more interested in big band jazz than overseeing the dozens of corporations he heads.  On a trip to France, he spies the alluring Julie Andre (Leslie Caron) in an orphanage.  Smitten, he arranges to pay for her college education in America.  But to avoid any hint of impropriety (he’s many years her senior), he does so anonymously.  As Julie writes letter upon letter to her mysterious benefactor, she becomes distraught when she receives no response.  Jervis’s assistant Griggs (Fred Clark) and secretary Miss Pritchard (Thelma Ritter) are so moved by her letters, they show them to Jervis, who is taken by her heartfelt writings.  He arranges to meet her, but without telling her that he is her benefactor.

You can probably guess where it goes from there.  It’s all very routine and predictable.  And let’s be honest, kinda icky.  Astaire was 32 years older than Caron.  The fact that they acknowledge how inappropriate it is doesn’t make it any better, and arguably makes it worse.  They could maybe get away with it if there was sufficient chemistry in the relationship, but there isn’t.  They only have a couple of scenes together, and the magic isn’t there.  Well, Astaire’s magic is there, but Caron just doesn’t cut it.  I said the same thing about the otherwise wonderful An American in Paris… she’s not leading lady material.  She’s attractive and a great dancer, but she has no presence.  The only time she shows any personality is her introduction, working with the children in the orphanage.  Otherwise, she projects little charm.  She doesn’t even have the sensuality to pull off the “bad girl” number in the obligatory (and generally tedious) ballet sequence.

I know director Jean Negulesco through his noirs, which are all enjoyable if not spectacular.  In the musical format, he doesn’t fare as well.  The sets are elaborate but often gaudy with unpleasant colors.  The scope frame doesn’t suit the material, except in the few big production numbers.  In the more intimate dances (which is where Astaire excels), the performers are tiny and overwhelmed by the horizontal space.  The camera seems to be spotlighting the sets rather than the dancers.

The dancing is nice, the songs are decent but not very memorable.  The movie is too chaste to make its creepy subtext too offensive, so it ends up being a mildly pleasant romp.  But it’s too formulaic and nothing about it stands out besides Astaire.  Even Thelma Ritter is largely wasted, getting little screen time until the very end.  Rating: Poor (57)


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