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Monday, May 16, 2011

DADDY LONG LEGS (1955)

This fourth adaptation of the old Jean Webster tale, the one about the orphan girl (Leslie Caron) whose much older secret sponsor becomes her secret admirer, is the weak link in Fred Astaire’s Indian Summer series of musicals. Even when the film was originally released, the story must have looked sticky & even a bit unsavory, and the decision to highlight rather than hide the Lolita-like aspects for comic embarrassment put scripters Henry & Phoebe Ephron in a bind. Especially when your two comics (the great Thelma Ritter & Fred Clark) show more rapport than your two leads. We might not care if the Johnny Mercer score were better, but only 'Something's Gotta Give' stands out. (He has to reach back to his 1945 hit ‘Dream’ for cover.) Helmer Jean Negulesco made some musical shorts over @ Warners (a great ‘tab’ version of Gaité Parisienne with Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo is hiding on the current MALTESE FALCON/’41 DVD), but this, his only feature musical, was made in the early stiff CinemaScope style which kept everything at quite a distance. (It has more life on a big, big theater screen.) Leslie Caron is a bit manic in teenage mode, but she does get a chance to show her ballet chops in the spectacular (if over-extended) dream sequences. These also give Negulesco a chance to show off his visual panache. The final segment, set in a surreal Rio, is a real stunner. But it comes so late, we’re ready to wrap things up; by which time film mavens may have noticed a serious case of creeping Minnelli envy with visual lifts from AMERICAN IN PARIS/’50, THE BAND WAGON/’53, even YOLANDA & THE THIEF/’45!)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The story retains considerable charm in Mary Pickford's fine 1919 version, directed by her fave, Marshall Neilan. Plus, she and Doug Fairbanks had just fallen in love and her radiant happiness seems to have infected the whole cast & crew.

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