Daddy Long Legs (1955 film)
|Daddy Long Legs|
|Directed by||Jean Negulesco|
|Produced by||Samuel G. Engel|
|Written by||Henry Ephron
Jean Webster (novel)
|Music by||Alex North (ballet music)|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release date(s)||May 5, 1955|
|Running time||126 minutes|
|Box office||$2.5 million (US rentals)|
Daddy Long Legs (1955) is a Hollywood musical comedy film set in France, New York City, and the fictional college town of "Walston" in Massachusetts. The film was directed by Jean Negulesco, and stars Fred Astaire, Leslie Caron, Terry Moore, Fred Clark, and Thelma Ritter, with music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The screenplay was written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, loosely based on the 1912 novel Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster.
In 1953, shortly after completing the M-G-M film musical The Band Wagon, Fred Astaire, along with many other stars at the studio, was released from his contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer due to the advent of television and the downsizing of film production. Astaire's association with the studio that had "more stars than there are in heaven", had begun back in 1933 when he made his film debut (on loanout from R-K-O) opposite Joan Crawford and Clark Gable in Dancing Lady. His next picture for the studio, Broadway Melody Of 1940, was made seven years later. He was then put under contract to M-G-M in 1944 and, despite a brief retirement period in 1946-47 plus two loanouts to Paramount Pictures, he remained there for nine years.
Daddy Long Legs was Astaire's first and only movie musical at 20th Century-Fox. It was also the first and only time he co-starred with Leslie Caron (who, at the time, was still under contract to M-G-M, but was loaned out to Fox for this production). The film was one of Astaire's personal favorites, largely due to the script which, for once, directly addresses the complications inherent in a love affair between a young woman and a man thirty years her senior. However, the making of it was marred by his wife's death from lung cancer. Deeply traumatized, Astaire offered to pay the production expenses already incurred in order to quit the project, but then changed his mind.
This was the first of three consecutive Astaire films set in France or with a French theme (the others being Funny Face and Silk Stockings), following the fashion for French-themed musicals established by ardent Francophile Gene Kelly with An American in Paris (1951), which also featured Kelly's protégée Caron.
Like The Band Wagon, Daddy Long Legs did only moderately well at the box office. According to Audrey Hepburn, it was at this time that Astaire was seriously considering retiring from musical films. He changed his mind when he was offered the opportunity to co-star with Hepburn the following year in Funny Face.
Wealthy American Jervis Pendleton III (Fred Astaire) has a chance encounter at a French orphanage with a cheerful 18-year-old resident, Julie Andre (Leslie Caron). He anonymously pays for her education at a New England college. She writes letters to her mysterious benefactor regularly, but he never writes back. Her nickname for him, "Daddy Long Legs", is taken from the description of him given to Andre by some of her fellow orphans who see his shadow as he leaves their building.
Several years later, he visits her at school, still concealing his identity. Despite their large age difference, they soon fall in love.
Key songs/dance routines
As his first film in Cinemascope widescreen – which he was to parody later in the "Stereophonic Sound" number from Silk Stockings (1957) - Daddy Long legs provided him the opportunity to explore the additional space available, with the help of his assistant choreographer Dave Robel. Roland Petit designed the much-maligned "Nightmare Ballet" number. As usual, Astaire adapted his choreography to the particular strengths of his partner, in this case ballet. Even so, Caron ran into some problems in this, her last dance musical, to the extent that Astaire mentioned in his biography that "one day at rehearsals I asked her to listen extra carefully to the music, so as to keep in time". Caron herself puts this down to flaws in her early musical training. The final result, however, has a pleasing and appropriate dreamlike quality. In this respect, it is a more successful attempt to integrate ballet into his dance routines than his previous effort in Shall We Dance (1937).
- "History Of The Beat": An Astaire song and dance solo using drumsticks performed in an office environment. While the use of drumsticks recalls the Nice Work If You Can Get It routine from A Damsel In Distress (1937), and the Drum Crazy number from Easter Parade (1948), it is a pale shadow of either, and, given that this was the first number to be filmed, some commentators have speculated that it was affected by Astaire's grief at his wife's death.
- "Daddy Long Legs": An off-screen female chorus sing this attractive number while Caron muses fondly at a blackboard cartoon sketch of Astaire.
- "Daydream Sequence": Astaire appears in three guises: A Texan, an international playboy, and a guardian angel based on images of him described in letters from Caron. As a Texan he performs a comic gallumphing square dance routine to a short song dubbed for him by Thurl Ravenscroft - the only time in his career that Astaire's voice was dubbed. As an international playboy he tangoes his way through a flock of women, one of whom is Barrie Chase - who was later to be his dance partner in all of his television specials from 1958-1968. The third routine is a particularly attractive and gentle romantic partnered dance with Caron, where she performs graceful ballet steps while Astaire glides admiringly around her.
- "Sluefoot": A boisterous and joyous partnered dance with Astaire and Caron with a lot of sharp leg movements in which, atypically, Astaire inserts a short and zany solo segment. The chorus join in towards the end.
- "Something's Gotta Give": Astaire was deeply grateful to his friend Mercer for composing this now famous standard as he felt the film sorely lacked a strong popular song. In the romantic partnered routine which follows Astaire's rendition of the song, he exploits – albeit reluctantly – the wide lateral spaces afforded by the Cinemascope format. While the routine has many attractive qualities and the ending is particularly fine, some commentators have detected a certain stiffness in Caron, especially in her upper body.
- "Nightmare Ballet": A solo routine for Caron frequently criticised for its rather meaningless content and length (it lasts all of twelve minutes).
- "Dream": A short but much admired celebratory romantic partnered routine for Astaire and Caron with dreamlike twirling motifs and, unusually for Astaire, incorporating a kiss.
- Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Lyle R. Wheeler, John DeCuir, Walter M. Scott, Paul S. Fox).
- Best Music, Original Song (Johnny Mercer, for the song "Something's Gotta Give")
- Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Alfred Newman).
The film was also nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical (Phoebe Ephron, Henry Ephron).
Other versions of the Jean Webster novel:
- Daddy-Long-Legs (1919 film) with Mary Pickford
- Daddy Long Legs (1931 film) with Janet Gaynor
- Curly Top (film), 1935 film with Shirley Temple based on the novel
- Daddy Long Legs (1938 film) Dutch film
- My Daddy Long Legs (1990) Japanese anime TV series
- Daddy-Long-Legs (2005 film) Korean film
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p249
- 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955', Variety Weekly, January 25, 1956
- "NY Times: Daddy Long Legs". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-22.
- Fred Astaire: Steps in Time, 1959, multiple reprints.
- John Mueller: Astaire Dancing – The Musical Films of Fred Astaire, Knopf 1985, ISBN 0-394-51654-0