Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Dance Party: Freddy's Long Legs

Oh, those Frenchies! They are so much more sophisticated than Americans when it comes to amour. At least that's what movie studios thought back in the 1950s. A buttload of musical films were placed in France, or had French themes, during that decade. Gene Kelly started all the fuss with An American in Paris in 1951, and by the time Maurice Chevalier thanked heaven for little girls in 1958's Gigi, the movie-going public had been treated to Silk Stockings, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, Funny Face, and Les Girls, all of which had at least part of their story take place in the city of love.

Plopped right in the middle of that list is Daddy Long Legs, which Fred Astaire headlined in 1955. It was one of his favorite films, though he made an effort to get out of his contract when his wife died of lung cancer near the start of the shooting. He persevered, aided by the charmer at his side, Leslie Caron. Leslie emerged as a bona fide superstar during this Francophilian decade, starring in both An American in Paris and Gigi (as well as in Lilli, Sabrina, and other non-musical films which also took place in France). Here, she plays a French teen-ager who is spotted at an orphanage by a wealthy "benefactor", who pays for her college education in New England. Daddy Long Legs and Gigi both concerned the relationship between a young girl and an older man (in this case, CONSIDERABLY older, like 30 years or so) who supports her as a child, then gets the hots for her. The whole concept reminds me of Sweeney Todd's Judge Turpin and Joanna. Back then, there didn't seem to be the yuck factor we might now apply when a middle aged man falls in love with an 18 year old he helped raise, or maybe it's just a French thing. Or a Woody Allen thing. Whatever.

This week's Dance Party is a duet with Caron and Astaire, and is a pretty good example of how our man Fred adapted his style, and skill, to the abilities of his costar. In previous clips in these pages, we saw it happen with Ginger Rogers (right) and with Betty Hutton. No matter who she was, Fred was always more skilled than his dance partner, but the viewer might not know it, he adapted his style so keenly. Here, Astaire's costar was better skilled in ballet than tap or ballroom, but it's still a pretty fun clip. If dances had looked this fun at my school, maybe I would have attended a few more sockhops:

Tuesday marks the twenty third anniversary of Fred Astaire's death. Leslie Caron will turn 79 week after next.

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