A Date with Judy (1948)
Well, as the name kind of suggests, A Date with Judy (1948) isn’t the most earth shattering, nuanced film that was ever made. If I am being completely honest, I probably wouldn’t have watched it if Jane Powell was not our Star of the Month. That being said, A Date with Judy is a cute film that provides an interesting, fun and frothy, idealized view of teenage life in 1940s America. (Set in Santa Barbara, CA no less! One of my favorite local cities!) It is a completely family friendly film, which, as the mother of a three-year-old, I can certainly appreciate!
If you missed it on TCM last week, you can find A Date with Judy on Amazon.
I’ll start by laying out the very, very simple storyline. Judy Foster, your average American girl next door, is excited to attend the prom with her boyfriend Oogie (Scotty Beckett) and her best friend, the beautiful Carol (Elizabeth Taylor), who incidentally is Oogie’s sister. Oh yeah, Oogie and Carol are also spoiled rotten by their absentee father, and Carol basically runs the high school. Literally, anything Carol says goes.
For example, Carol somehow manages to get the famous Xavier Cugat & His Orchestra to play at the high school dance. To put that into perspective for any young’uns reading this, that would be the 1940s equivalent of having a hugely popular band like Cold Play or Maroon 5 play at your prom. !!!!!!!!! Another example of Carol’s power: when she decides to wear a blue dress to the prom, Carol tells Judy this means Judy can no longer wear her new blue dress to the dance, and must now wear her old pink dress from last year. And Judy does what Carol tells her to without blinking an eye.
Does Carol, a beautiful and spoiled, influential high school girl remind you of anyone? YES!! Carol is totally the 1948 version of Mean Girls’ Regina George.
Things get complicated—if you can call this complicated—when Oogie decides to play games with Judy and not pick her up for the big dance. This obviously upsets Judy, so she instead brings the much older Steven (Robert Stack) as her prom date. Steven agrees to go with her out of pity: he is a nice guy, not a creeper. Well, he’s mostly not a creeper, because even though Steven has no interest in the much younger Judy, he is very, very interested in the super hot and also much younger Carol…so…hmmm…Steven is kind of a creeper. Luckily, Robert Stack is a classy guy, so that helps make it all a bit more palatable.
Make Way for Miranda!
Secondary storyline of the film: Judy’s parents are about to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Mrs. Foster (Selena Royle), like most wives, really wishes her husband knew how to rumba (???!!!!). Mr. Foster (Wallace Beery) decides to surprise her by learning how to rumba before their big anniversary party. Hey, MGM had to figure out some way to work Carmen Miranda into the film, because…ENTER Carmen Miranda!!!!, an expert rumba dancer, and singer in Xaviar Cugat’s band. (Miranda wasn’t really a part of Cugat’s Orchestra, just for this film. HEY, MGM had to find some way to work Cugat’s band into the film, as well!)
As Mr. Foster tries to keep his rumba lessons private, hiding Carmen in his closet whenever anyone comes by his office during one of his lessons, it is inevitable that eventually, someone will get suspicious and assume he is having an affair. That someone who gets suspicious and makes the assumption ends up being, yep, you guessed it, his daughter Judy. And of course she tells Carol because, if you can’t tell your slightly backstabbing best friend terrible, untrue, suspicious about your parents, who can you tell? Definitely a safe place to share unsubstantiated theories.
Who will Judy choose, Oogie or Steven? Will Judy and Carol’s friendship be ruined over their mutual infatuation with the dashing Steven? Is it totally gross for Steven and Carol to become an item? Does Judy learn the truth about her father before ruining his reputation? And the most important question of all, does Mr. Foster learn how to rumba well enough to impress his wife?
I know, I know, I’ve got you on the edge of your seat, but don’t worry, all of these highly dramatic, endlessly suspenseful questions are answered by the end of the film. And along the way, we of course get a few randomly placed, but utterly charming, dance numbers and songs.
Jane Rocks It
Ok, as silly as this film sounds, and as tongue-in-cheek as my summary is at times—I’ve got to have a little fun with a simple storyline like this—A Date with Judy is a really cute film! And Jane Powell gives an amazing performance that is really easy to take for granted because she is just so dang good at what she does! Seriously, about half way through the movie I just found myself thinking, “Oh my gosh, this little girl can act!”
Jane plays the quintessential teenage girl next door to absolute perfection. Her performance is so natural, you’d think Jane must have experienced all of this stuff in real life. But if you read my post on Ms Powell last week, you know nothing could have been further from the truth.
Even though Jane always dreamed of experiencing high school as portrayed in A Date with Judy, she never had the chance. In fact, missing out on traditional high school was, even at the writing of her autobiography, something Jane still regretted.
But fans of hers during Jane’s high school years on film so believed in her characterizations of the perfect, yet relatable teenage girl next door, they wrote her letters asking for advice on everything from boys to clothes to makeup! Her advice was so sought after and trusted that Jane had her own advice column in a fan magazine at about the time A Date with Judy was released. The problem was, as Jane shared,
“I got sacks of letters from other teenagers asking advice about dating and romance, but I barely knew how to act with a boy. The studio answered the letters for me! For a while I even had an advice column in a fan magazine, telling teenage girls not to wear too much makeup and teenage boys how to ask for a date… But I haven’t the slightest idea who [at the studio] wrote it [her responses]. I know I didn’t. How could I?…I’d had less social experience than many of my correspondents.”
Oh the sad irony. Jane was so busy making movies, portraying the perfect teenage girl on film, that she never acquired the real life experience with which to answer the endless questions of her fans, who either wanted to be just like her, or who wanted to date a girl just like her.
Jane, Elizabeth, and Green Eyeshadow
A Date with Judy put Jane and her real-life friend, Elizabeth Taylor, onscreen together. The girls played characters that wound up being pretty typical of the roles they would each play for the remainder of their careers—Jane as good, sweet, girl next door types, and Elizabeth as dangerously seductive, femme fatales. And in A Date with Judy, at a mere 15 years old, Liz was already drop dead gorgeous in her first “grown up” screen role. In Elizabeth’s Carol, you can already see shades of the temptresses Liz would soon make a career of playing.
Even though Elizabeth was three years younger than Jane, they play girls of the same age in the film. And Liz gets the guy. And the sexy wardrobe. And the green eye shadow. And boy, was that green eye shadow a sore spot for Jane at the time! In her own words,
“Elizabeth…got to wear green eye shadow, show her figure in a tight sweater, and look sexy; that hurt. I was really a little jealous, not of her but of the green eye shadow.”
Ok, how cute is that? Jane was jealous about the eye shadow! Takes me back to the days when I was envious of my friends who were allowed to wear makeup before me. So relatable. Gotta love Jane!
Jane's Least Favorite Movie Dad
As we’ve discussed, Jane played a lot of idealized daughters throughout her onscreen career. And as such, the list of names and pedigree of her onscreen parents is quite remarkable! She got the chance to work with some really big names from the previous generation of Hollywood stars, one of which was Wallace Beery. Now, if you’re a fan of The Rockford Files (1974-1980) like me, the last name “Beery” may sound familiar: the incredibly kind-faced and lovable Noah Beery, who plays Rocky, Jim Rockford’s father in the series, is the nephew of Wallace Beery, who plays Jane Powell’s father in A Date with Judy!
As lovable as Noah Beery was, apparently his uncle Wallace was not. According to Jane,
“…my least favorite [movie father] was Wallace Beery…I thought he was a fine actor…but…he ignored everybody and everything. He never said hello. He never said goodbye. He never smiled.”
WOW! Not what you’d expect to hear about a man who did such a great job playing fathers onscreen. In fact, it seems that Jane was not the only child star who found Wallace Beery less than amicable on set. According to Margaret O’Brien, a child star from the era probably best known for playing Judy Garland’s youngest sister in the classic Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), if ever the director of one of her films needed her to cry,
“All they had to do was tell me that Wallace Beery was going to steal the scene.”
Apparently Beery was known for trying to maneuver child actors out of camera range whenever he shared a scene with a child in a film! Though Beery does a great job as Jane’s father in A Date with Judy, I must say that his efforts at scene stealing were only successful on me at the very end of the film, when he comically dances the rumba. Other than this final scene, Jane and Carmen Miranda easily draw the eye away from Beery at all other points in the film. And now that I know Wallace Beery was such an infamous scene-stealer, I am curious, and will be on the lookout, for his antics in other films as well!
And with that I close!
Did any of you watch A Date with Judy? What were your thoughts on the film? Did you find Jane Powell’s performance as impressive as I do? Are you as taken aback as I am by Liz T’s great beauty at such a young age? And are you also shocked at the relative normality of Carmen Miranda’s headwear throughout the film? (Don’t get me wrong, she still wears some CRAZY things on her head, but nothing like you’d expect, or have seen in her other films and performances!)
And don’t forget to check out the TCM film page for next week’s Jane Powell film showtimes!