Play It Again – Daddy Long Legs

Play It Again – Daddy Long Legs. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up … or has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

It’s not often a musical starring Fred Astaire makes you want to say ‘Eww’ (well, apart from the startling age gap between him and Audrey Hepburn as a romantic couple in Funny Face) but Jean Negulesco’s 1955 film Daddy Long Legs takes the inappropriate cake.

Astaire plays American millionaire Jervis Pendleton III, who sees 18-year-old Julie (Leslie Caron) in a French orphanage and becomes enchanted with her. Mindful of her youth – he is thirty years her senior – he sponsors her to go to college and keeps his distance. She nicknames him Daddy Long Legs, and though she tries to get to know him, all of her attempts at correspondence go unanswered. Some years later he goes to visit her at school, concealing the fact that he is her benefactor, and despite the age difference they fall in love.

There are definitely some father issues at play in this story, based on the bestselling novel by Jean Webster. Written in 1912, the plot of the book sounds a lot more romantic than what is on show in this film. Perhaps it is the not-quite-right pairing of Astaire and Caron. Maybe back in 1912, a thirty year age gap between lovers was quite common. Either way, today Daddy Long Legs stands as a fun musical with a sour edge to it.

The story had been adapted into a stage play and two films prior to this 1955 version. Negulesco’s film was nominated for three Academy Awards –Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Colour; Best Original Song (Something’s Gotta Give); Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Shifting between New York, France and a fictional college town called Walston in Massachusetts, Daddy Long Legs offers continuous dreamy dance sequences. Between Astaire and Caron, you wouldn’t expect anything less. As with other studio musicals at the time there’s something magical about the painted backdrops and large scale musical numbers that (despite a murky plot) make Daddy Long Legs a must see for musical fans.

Discuss: Daddy Long Legs!

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