Daddy Long Legs (1955) has the distinction of not only being set in France (at least the first part) but also boasts a French leading lady, Leslie Caron (it's location was changed to France because of its her). Caron had been trained in ballet as a child, which led to her introduction into movies. A relative newcomer, Caron had already starred in six films, including her first film, An American in Paris (1951) with Gene Kelly (won Best Picture), and Lili (1953) for which she was nominated for Best Actress and won an BAFTA Award.
The year 1955 was a difficult one for both Caron and her co-star, Fred Astaire, personally. Caron had just divorced her first husband the year before and would marry again the following year. Astaire's beloved wife of 21 years died tragically from lung cancer just before filming started. Astaire, though he loved the script of Daddy Long Legs, offered to pay all of the production costs in order to drop out of the film. Luckily he changed his mind.
The story of Daddy Long Legs had already been made into a film several times, so the storyline was definitely not new. Based on Jean Webster's 1912 novel (which I highly encourage everyone to read as it is delightful and timeless - you can read it free here along with it's sequel Dear Enemy), it was made into a film first in 1919 with Mary Pickford and again in 1931 with Janet Gaynor. The 1935 Shirley Temple film, Curly Top, is based on the book as well.
The script was written by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who are the parents of the well known and loved romantic comedy writer Nora (died 2012) and producer Delia Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail). Other films penned by the couple include Belles on Their Toes (1952) and Desk Set (1957).
Daddy Long Legs was directed by Jean Negulesco, who also directed Nobody Lives Forever (1946) and Humoresque (1946) - two of my favorite John Garfield films, as well as Johnny Belinda (1948) which brought an Oscar to Jane Wyman, Titanic (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) which was filmed on location in Rome.
The basic plot of the film is this: a wealthy American, Jervis Pendleton III (Astaire), visits an orphanage and becomes taken with one of the orphans, Julie (Caron). He pays for her to go to a prestigious girls college in New England. His only stipulations are that she not know who her benefactor is, and that she write to him regularly.
I love her little writing desk!
To Julie it is all like a fairy tale. She is freed from her drab life at the orphanage and finally gets a room of her own and tons of beautiful clothes, instead of the blue gingham she always had to wear at the orphanage (someone had donated enough to cloth all of the children for years to come - even the handkerchiefs were blue gingham!). Julie addresses all of her letters to Daddy Long Legs. This comes from a description of his shadow that some of the other orphans saw and described to Julie.
Julie's letter's however, never actually reach Jervis. They are read and filed away by his secretary, played by the 4-times nominated brilliant character actress, Thelma Ritter. One day she angrily confronts her employer and tells him he must go and see Julie. It just so happens that Julie's roommate Linda, played by Terry Moore who had been in movies since 1940, is Jervis's niece. Therefore, he can come visit Julie without revealing who he is.
"The Sluefoot" sung by the Pied Papers with Ray Anthony and His Orchestra.
The day Jervis arrives is also the day of a big dance with the neighboring boys college. Naturally this gives Jervis a chance to dance with Julie. It's a great and catchy number. You can watch it below.
Despite their age differences (Astaire was 55 and Caron 23 at the time of filming), Jervis and Julie start to fall in love. In order to see more of each other, Jervis invites his niece and Julie to New York for a visit. Linda is unable to come so it ends up being just Julie.
"Something's Gotta Give," which was written because the film lacked a popular song, was filmed without first being rehearsed.
Eventually Julie discovers that Jervis and Daddy Long Legs are the same person and everything ends "Happily Ever After."
I really enjoyed this film. The only thing I did not like about it was the length. The movie runs for 126 minutes. This includes a 12 minute "Nightmare Ballet" and another extremely long "Daydream" sequence. I'm not a huge fan of musicals and so it was hard to sit through these two long parts, though the "Daydream" sequence had three very different sections for variety. My favorite dance was the very last one. It was short, simple, and beautiful and made for a perfect ending.
Start at 3:40
To read a more in-depth summary, check out this this post from The Blonde at the Film. Here's another Great Post with some behind-the-scenes and trivia about the film. You can read the book Daddy-Long-Legs and it's sequel, Dear Enemy for free on project Gutenberg.
Kay Nelson sketch for Leslie Caron costume in Daddy Long Legs (1955).
An early application of toreador pants, an international fashion trend
that would survive nearly a decade.
Even now, I feel furious with myself because whenever there's a camera pointed towards me, my MGM training makes me smile. I don't like it. You can see it on all the people who came from that era because there was no question of them not smiling for the camera. Even Katharine Hepburn-- and God knows she was a dramatic actress -- if the camera is on her, she smiles.
This post is part of the France On Film Blogathon hosted by Serendipitous Anachronisms. Be sure to read all of the other posts!