DADDY LONG LEGS, musical-comedy trifle from 1955, picks up an old saw and adds dancing (Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron), tunes (courtesy Johnny Mercer) and Cinemascope to the 5th film adaptation of Jean Webster’s 1912 novel. A 1919 silent with Mary Pickford yielded Janet Gaynor’s 1931 sound version, followed three years later by Curly Top with Shirley Temple. Three years after that the Dutch offered Vadertje Langbeen. Phoebe & Henry Ephron wrote the Astaire effort, the first of a trio (Funny Face, Silk Stockings) he did either set in having something to do with France, the presence of popular import Caron spurred by her spins with Gene Kelly in An American In Paris and her charmer Lili.
Touched by an 18-year-old girl he saw teaching kids at a French orphanage, wealthy ‘Jervis Pendleton III’ (Astaire) decides to pay for her education, to be done at an exclusive college in Massachusetts. Since he’s done this on condition of anonymity, ‘Julie André (Caron) doesn’t know him, but seeks to contact him through letters addressed to ‘Daddy Long Legs’. He doesn’t reply, but is prodded to visit the school on the eve of graduation. Per storybook logic, they fall for each other. After a few elaborate dance routines.
It’s always a pleasure to watch Astaire move, and Caron is no slouch; she’s glowing, despite being topped by hairdo better suited for a mop. The presence of 50’s nonentity Terry Moore (as Fred’s niece, Julie’s roommate) is balanced by pros Thelma Ritter and Fred Clark. Directed by Jean Negulesco, other than some of the dance numbers (the ones choregraphed by Fred) it’s pretty flat, the passé material pretty stale in the year “Rock Around The Clock” erupted. The “hep” number at the college party, done by Ray Anthony’s band, is so quaint it squeaks. The other songs don’t amount to much, so you’re left with the dance sequences and the age dif between Fred & Leslie: 55 & 23. But how many 55-year-olds move like Fred Astaire? The lengthy running time of 126 minutes is weighed down by the insertion of one of those infernal ‘dream’ dance numbers that plagued musicals in the 50s and beyond, this one a ballet—the “Nightmare Ballet”, no less–dragging on for 12 minutes.
Come Oscar time, the dutiful always-give-a-musical-something contingent nominated the art direction, scoring and the song “Something’s Gotta Give”. Costing $2,600,000, returns were less than hoped, $7,100,000 and 40th place for the year. *
Among the dancers and extras are Barrie Chase, James Cromwell and Leslie Parrish.
* Fred’s preceding vehicle, The Band Wagon, was well-reviewed but underperformed at the box-office, and after the 1957 pair that followed this picture didn’t pan out as hoped financially (Funny Face at #30 and Silk Stockings #45), Fred gave his feet a rest and went 180° to the dead-serious drama of On The Beach. Caron shone on in Gigi, Fanny (love it) and Father Goose.
Though Johnny Mercer wrote the words and music for the songs, the scoring of the picture was handled by Alfred Newman, Alex North and Cyril J. Mockridge, with Newman receiving the Oscar nomination, one of his career’s 44, with 12 wins.
Daddy Long Legs got off to an unfortunate start when Astaire’s wife Phyllis died of cancer during production. The grief-stricken star soldiered through, the precision work helping him cope with the loss.