They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
How could they?
Here’s the story: Multi-millionaire Jervis Pendleton, III (Fred Astaire, Top Hat), is a confirmed bachelor and a committed hedonist playboy–not that he doesn’t do his bit when his country calls. To that end, he agrees to travel as envoy to France on an “economic mission.” When his car stalls on a muddy country road, Jervis hoofs it to the nearby Jeanne D’Arc orphanage, looking for a phone and just happens to spy the lovely young orphan Julie Andre (Leslie Caron, Gigi), who’s lived there her entire eighteen years and has developed a unique and wonderful way of teaching English to her young charges.
Enchanted by her promise and sympathetic to her situation, Jervis determines to make Julie his own personal mission: he wants to adopt her.
“This girl has a gift for life,” he explains to his friend Alex Williamson (Larry Keating, Mister Ed), American Ambassador to France. “I want to send her to America. I want to educate her.”
Can you imagine the kind of response this proposal would get today? Well, apparently things haven’t changed that much in the last 60 years.
“You can’t adopt an eighteen year old girl,” Alex replies. “You can’t ask me to–they have a name for what you’re asking me to do.”
But Jervis’ intentions are pure as…and to prove it, he makes a can’t miss pitch: instead of adopting Julie, he’ll merely act as her sponsor, enrolling her in the freshman class at prestigious Walston College in Massachusetts. Tuition, room and board, her clothing, meals, and a plane ride to America; all paid for in advance and anonymously, to boot. There! She won’t even know who’s behind this benevolent action on the part of the Pendleton foundation–how’s that for a total lack of ulterior motive?!
I won’t spoil for you how Jervis and Julie eventually come face to face, or even why she regards her unknown benefactor as “Daddy Long Legs.”
Plausibility schmausibility. Astaire was in his mid-fifties when he shot Daddy Long Legs, not that you’d know it. Taper thin, dapper and nimble as ever (not to mention a crack jazz drummer–which he demonstrates in the amazing “History of the Beat” number), this man–even in middle-age–personifies a boy-next-door charm coupled with magic moves; the likes of which we’ll never see again. Ms. Caron–herself an accomplished ballet dancer–proves to be a perfect partner in what (unfortunately) would be their lone screen pairing. The leads are afforded the very best in terms of support, with Fred Clark (Bells Are Ringing) and six-time Oscar nominee Thelma Ritter (Pillow Talk) playing Jervis’ managerial staff and sweet young Terry Moore (Oscar nominee for Come Back, Little Sheba) as Julie’s college room mate, Linda.
Behind the camera, the hitters are no less heavy. Director Jean Negulesco (Johnny Belinda) is at the helm, with four time Oscar-winning cinematographer Leon Shamroy (Cleopatra) behind the lens and the celebrated husband and wife screenwriting team of Henry and Phoebe Ephron (Desk Set) responsible for an extremely witty adaptation of Jean Webster’s novel. While it’s true that Fred Astaire wasn’t a great singer, you certainly can’t fault the material here. No less than the Johnny Mercer supplies the tunes, including the unbelievably catchy “Something’s Gotta Give.” Go ahead, try not to get that one stuck in your brain–I dare you.
Kino Lorber brings this classic movie musical to Blu-ray in fine style, with a clean 1.85:1/1080p widescreen print dutifully subbing for the original Cinemascope. Sadly, the colors seem a bit faded for a film of this era (not to put too fine a point on it, but Daddy Long Legs received an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration in Color film!), but that’s hardly a deal-breaker. The DTS-HD Master Audio track does a great job balancing the film’s dynamic musical score (which earned Alfred Newman an Oscar nomination) with the dialogue-driven scenes. There are no subtitles available.
The package is nicely kitted out with bonus features, including a superb (optional) audio commentary track from film historian Ken Barnes and Fred’s daughter, Ava Astaire McKenzie. There’s Movietone News coverage of the film’s London, New York and Hollywood premieres and these too come with optional commentary from Barnes and Astaire McKenzie. Finally, there are a pair of vintage theatrical trailers.
O.K., the truth is that at two hours and six minutes, Daddy Long Legs goes on a bit too long. For me, it was one too many elaborate ballet numbers, but I digress. Still, here’s a perfect opportunity to experience what was once proudly trumpeted as “fun for the whole family,” and in this case, it’s true!
They don’t make ’em like that anymore.