Well, as the name kind of suggests, A Date with Judy (1948) isn’t the most earth shattering, nuanced film that was ever made.
To be completely honest, I probably wouldn’t have watched it if Jane Powell wasn’t 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.
You can find A Date with Judy here on Amazon [aff. link].
Let’s get to the plot. The very, very, very simple plot.
Judy Foster (Jane Powell) is your average American girl next door. Judy is beyond 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.
Oogie and Carol are 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, that would be the 1940s equivalent of having a hugely popular band, like
[insert YOUR FAVORITE BAND name here because I’m not about to act like I know what’s cool these days]
play at your prom. Another example of Carol’s power: when she decides to wear a blue dress to the prom, Carol tells Judy that she can no longer wear her new blue dress to prom, and must now wear her old pink dress from last year. 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?
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 Judy out of pity: he’s 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. Apparently MGM had to find some way to work Cugat’s band into the film, too.)
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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’s inevitable that eventually, someone will get suspicious and assume he’s 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, suspicions about your parents, who can you tell?
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?
For a few randomly placed, but utterly charming, dance numbers and songs, and the answers to these endlessly suspensful questions, watch A Date with Judy.
Jane Rocks It
As silly as the film sounds, and as tongue-in-cheek as my summary is at times, A Date with Judy really is a cute film. Jane Powell gives a great performance that’s easy to take for granted because she’s just so good at what she does. From the corny songs to the simple story line, Jane makes it all work.
Jane plays the quintessential teenage girl next door to perfection. Her performance is so natural, you’d think Jane must have experienced all of this high school stuff in real life. But nothing could have been further from the truth.
Even though Jane always wanted a high school experience 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. [aff. link]
A Date with Judy: Ask Jane
Fans really believed that Jane was the wise, perfect, yet relatable teen her film roles made her out to be. So much so that they wrote Jane letters asking for advice on everything from boys to clothes to makeup.
There were so many teens who wanted Jane’s advice that, at about the time A Date with Judy was released, MGM set Jane up with her own advice column in a fan magazine.
But there was a problem. 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.”
Talk about irony. Sad irony.
Jane, Elizabeth, & Green Eyeshadow
A Date with Judy paired Jane onscreen with her real-life friend, Elizabeth Taylor. Coincidentally (or not), in A Date with Judy, each girl played a character that wound up being pretty typical of the types of roles they each played for the remainder of their respective careers—Jane as good, sweet, girl next door types, and Elizabeth as dangerously seductive beauties.
In A Date with Judy, at a mere 15 years old, Liz was already drop dead gorgeous. Carol was really her first “grown up” screen role. In Elizabeth’s Carol, you can already see shades of the beautiful 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 A Date with Judy. And in the film Liz gets the guy. And the sexy wardrobe.
And the green eye shadow.
Out of all those things, it was the green eye shadow that proved a sore spot for Jane at the time:
“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.”
That’s absolutely adorable. You’ve gotta love Jane.
Jane's Least Favorite Movie Dad
Jane Powell played a lot of idealized daughters throughout her film career, particular during her days as a child and teen star. As such, the list of names of her onscreen parents is quite remarkable. Jane had the chance to work with some really big names from the previous generation of Hollywood stars, one of which was Wallace Beery.
Quick side note: Wallace Beery is the uncle of Noah Beery, Jim Rockford’s lovable dad in The Rockford Files (1974-1980).
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.”
Jane wasn’t the only child star who found Wallace Beery less than amicable on set. According to Margaret O’Brien, 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, the only scene he succesfully steals is his rumba at the end of the film.
That's it for A Date with Judy!
So, A Date with Judy.
Will it change your life? No. But it’s a cute film that any fan of corny, Classic Hollywood musicals will enjoy.
Join me next week for more about Jane Powell and Royal Wedding (1950).