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Daddy Long Legs

There is something powerful about seeing Fred Astaire in 1955's Daddy Long Legs: In his mid-fifties when the film was made, Astaire could still move with the stamina of a man half his age. But were he half his age, maybe Long Legs wouldn't be so creepy. In it, Astaire plays Jervis Pendelton III, a child of money who fancies music and finds himself entranced by Julie Andre (Leslie Caron) when he sees her teaching other orphans while stuck in France. Feeling patronly — but not so paternal he wouldn't try to marry Julie — Jervis gets her a college scholarship and takes care of her needs, but under the condition he doesn't reveal his role in her tutelage. In fact, his support staff keeps her letters from him until two years into her studies, when Jervis finally meets her and takes her on the town. Julie is interested, but propriety sends Jervis away, only for Julie to long for him in a ballet sequence that recalls (or, really, blatantly steals from) Caron's earlier An American in Paris. Few eras in Hollywood were as confusing, and confused, as the time that spanned the introduction of widescreen in 1953 to 1967's Bonnie and Clyde, to which the CinemaScope uneasiness of Daddy Long Legs is decidedly a captive. Not only were old directors getting out of fashion, but they also were wrangling with the new widescreen format (Fritz Lang famously complained that it was only good for shooting snakes and funerals), while the influx of mature, European cinema offered something American movies couldn't. This newfound foreign freedom only played up America's still-stifled cinematic sexuality, leading such awkward attempts at addressing modern mores as Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch. In Daddy Long Legs, the most grotesque aspect is the March-October romance — Caron is almost a third of Astaire's age, and her attraction to him seems less like romance and more of an Electra complex. Such might be forgivable (as are perhaps the blackface numbers in earlier Astaire efforts) were the film good — or at least better. And it's fair to say that only comedians and dancers can transcend the limitations of their directors. But with a bloated running-time and Jean Negulesco behind the camera (the most blatant of 20th Century Fox's CinemaScope hacks), there is little to recommend besides the musical numbers. Astaire gives a good performance considering he was grieving the death of his wife during filming, and the film has a bright spot in the appearance of Thelma Ritter as Pendelton's secretary. Fox presents Daddy Long Legs in a good anamorphic transfer (2.55:1) with Dolby Digital 4.0 audio. Extras include a commentary with Ava Astaire McKenzie and film historian Ken Barnes with archival comments by songwriter Johnny Mercer, two Movietone News pieces with optional commentary (6 min.), two stills galleries, two trailers, and bonus trailers. Keep-case with paperboard slipcover.

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