RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE, THE
(director: Vincente Minnelli; screenwriters: William Douglas-Home/based on the play by Mr. Home/Julius J. Epstein; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Adrienne Fazan; music: Eddie Warner; cast: Rex Harrison (Jimmy Broadbent), Kay Kendall (Sheila Broadbent), John Saxon (David Parkson), Sandra Dee (Jane Broadbent), Angela Lansbury (Mabel Claremont), Peter Myers (David Fenner), Diane Clare (Clarissa), Ambrosine Phillpotts (Miss Grey); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; MGM; 1958)
“A vintage drawing-room comedy that’s flimsy, lacks any edge and plays out as an exercise in high style Brit comedy.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Vincente Minnelli (“Father of the Bride”/”Gigi”/”The Long, Long Trailer”) helms this box office bomb (it had success only at Radio City Music Hall in New York), a vintage drawing-room comedy that’s flimsy, lacks any edge and plays out as an exercise in high style Brit comedy. It’s based on the play by William Douglas-Home and written by Mr. Home and Julius J. Epstein. The studio foolishly thought it had to Americanize the script by having the daughter and her love interest raised in the U.S. so they could be played by future popular young American stars Sandra Dee and John Saxon. It stars real-life husband and wife Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall (no one on the set knew their secret, that Kay was dying of leukemia). They are cast as the banker Lord Jimmy Broadbent and Lady Sheila Broadbent, a charming aristocratic London newlywed couple who are looking forward to the arrival of Jimmy’s 17-year-old, American-born daughter, from a first marriage, Jane (Sandra Dee), after a long absence.
Sheila’s second cousin and confidante is the chatty Mabel Claremont (Angela Lansbury), who with her debutante daughter Clarissa (Diane Clare) accidentally meet the Broadbent’s at the airport. Clarissa takes Jane on a tour of London, where at the changing of the royal palace guards she points out she’s enamored by a wealthy royal guard officer named David Fenner (Peter Myers). Over tea Clarissa lets on about the “season” whereby every year girls of seventeen are introduced into society by their parents who throw a lavish ball, which, in turn, brings about invitations to other balls. Back at the Broadbents’ apartment, Mabel rubs it in that Jane will not be introduced into society. Reacting instinctively to Mabel’s nasty comments, Sheila startles everyone by saying that she arranged Jane’s coming out long ago. This does not sit well with Jane, and Jimmy feels uncomfortable with that claim but goes along with it anyway.
At Jane’s first ball, she meets Fenner and finds him to be a pompous and stuffy bore. But she digs the American drummer in the society ball band, David Parkson (John Saxon). He takes her to another ball, against the wishes of Sheila, and there’s slight comedy mined from this so-called unholy romance blossoming despite parental obstacles; as it later turns out, he’s secretly a titled millionaire and is actually the prize catch of the season.
Harrison and Kendall are consummate actors, both exhibiting an intelligence and a flair for delivering comedy with perfect timing. Dee as their ingénue daughter is a reach, as she appears to be what she is–an uneducated and dullish low-class good-looker without much of a personality or smarts. Saxon is pleasant as her handsome boyfriend, but I can’t think of anything else to compliment him for. Ultimately what’s memorable in this too theatrical of a production are the dances at the ball, the fancy costumes and that marvelous chandelier.
REVIEWED ON 5/14/2007 GRADE: C+