Wednesday, January 31, 2007

DADDY LONG LEGS (20th Century-Fox 1955) Fox Home Video

Jean Negulesco’s Daddy Long Legs (1955) is a polite hiccup in Fred Astaire’s otherwise sterling 50s tenure. Although it affords Astaire the opportunity to dance with the leggy Leslie Caron in several sequences that are quite charming (most effective in their penthouse pas deux to Something’s Gotta Give) the tale of a French waif and her wealthy – much older – benefactor is more trite than treasured.

Julie Andre (Caron) is a benevolent English teacher in a school for French children. She is accidentally introduced to wealthy patron of the arts – and aspiring jazz musician, Jervis Pendleton III – a.k.a. John Smith (Astaire) after Pendleton’s car breaks down just beyond the gated orphanage.

The narrative trips along lightly enough through Andre’s maturity from college egghead to cultured young lady of the world. But then there are the dream sequences to contend with; the first a fantasy concocted in Jervis’ imagination as he reads grateful letters from Andre – who is writing in speculation of what he looks like.

In an attempt that seems all too desperate for an Astaire musical – Negulesco’s execution of the fantasy elements is both clumsy and garish – casting Jervis as a gregarious Texan, then cultured bore, then finally – as the aged December ideal of a young girl’s fancies. Whether uncomfortable with the dimensions of Cinemascope or directing his first musical, Negulesco keeps a great distance between the camera and his dancers – allowing for the vast 2:35:1 dimensions of the screen to almost swallow Astaire and Caron in a blank sea of backdrop.

The second ballet is a rather garish clumsy mess as Andre (Caron) assesses her life with or without Jervis – playing at various moments the young innocent, spinster clown and worldly prostitute. Finally, there is the heavy-handed way Negulesco handles all of the Johnny Mercer score, and the best song in the film (not written by Mercer) – Dream; only heard as backdrop sung by a heavenly choir with a lot of unnecessary reverb.

Designer John DeCuir – who never built small, on this occasion has delivered a stunning array of fifties chic that ironically doesn’t seem to date all that much from today’s vantage (well…okay, maybe that awful turquoise couch in Jervis’ office).

All in all then, Daddy Long Legs is a polite diversion in Astaire’s tenure as the greatest dancer on film. It’s neither terribly disappointing, nor up to the standards of previous or subsequent endeavors in his body of work.

The anamorphic DVD transfer from Fox Home Video is remarkable in both its clarity, detail and color fidelity. Rich, vibrant hues and deep saturation make for a stunning visual presentation augmented no doubt by Leon Shamroy’s elegant direction of photography. Fine details are present throughout. Age related artifacts are practically nonexistent. The audio is typically garish stereophonic 50s full channel – robust, hearty and loud whenever possible and quite brassy in Mercer’s scoring.

An audio commentary by laconic film historian Ken Barnes with Fred Astaire’s daughter Ava, and inserts from archival interviews with Johnny Mercer is the only real extra included herein. Stills gallery and a Movietone news reel are also included.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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