Two Weeks with Love (1950)
At the end of the 1940s and into the ’50s, MGM kept their petite blonde soprano Jane Powell on the move. First she went south in Holiday in Mexico (1948), then she ventured further in that direction to Rio de Janeiro in Luxury Liner (1948).
She headed to Brazil again in Nancy Goes to Rio (1950), and a few months later took another onscreen vacation, this time to the Catskills, for Two Weeks with Love.
Then it was London for Royal Wedding (1951) and Paris for Rich, Young and Pretty (1951), before she finally stayed put for the aptly named Small Town Girl (1953). (Though of course she never actually left MGM’s magical backlot.)
Why so many journeys? Well, traveling is a great way to meet handsome strangers and also introduces interesting places and people into the plot. This was also the era of the Good Neighbor Policy and a Latin American craze in films, hence the frequent trips south. (For more on that, visit my posts on Nancy Goes to Rio or Easy to Wed.) In this film, Powell stays within the US, though she eventually falls in love with a Latin Lover, Ricardo Montalban.
This film is important in Powell’s filmography because it deals quite directly with her image as a precocious teenager eager to be seen as an adult woman. Powell signed a contract with MGM in 1944 at the ripe old age of fifteen (though back then she was still “Suzanne Burce;” her stage name came from her character in her first movie, Song of the Open Road (1944).
MGM cast her as an adorable teenager in her early roles, but as Powell grew up, the characters she played stayed teens, though in films like Nancy Goes to Rio her character is desperate to be seen as an adult despite her age.
Powell’s onscreen persona lagged behind her real-life maturity: she married ice skater-turned-insurance broker Geary Anthony Steffen in 1949 when she was twenty, and she would have her first of two children with him in 1951.
But she had to grow up onscreen sometime. MGM first attempted that dreaded transition in Nancy Goes to Rio in which she falls in love with a much older man and even has a fake pregnancy scare. But she ends up with a boy her own age while her mother marries the man Powell originally romanced (it’s weird.)
After that foray into adulthood, MGM cast Powell in Two Weeks With Love (1950). The latter film took the trajectory of Rio even further by allowing Powell to romance and potentially keep an adult man. As the poster for this film notes, “It’s my first big love affair!” and MGM was quick to market it as an adult role for the star. The press campaign made ample use of the image of Powell in the skimpy corset, for example–more on that later. Powell’s next film after Two Weeks, Royal Wedding, treated her as an adult from the very beginning–the transition was complete!
This was also a big movie for another MGM starlet, Debbie Reynolds. She had only recently ventured into Hollywood after winning the Miss Burbank pageant in 1948. She was so good in the pageant that scouts from both MGM and Warner Bros. wanted to sign her. They reportedly flipped a coin–Warner won and signed Mary Frances Reynolds to a contract.
They changed her first name to Debbie but otherwise didn’t give her much attention, assigning her only two small roles in two years: an uncredited appearance as a wedding guest in June Bride (1948) and a tiny part in The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1950). Then the studio dropped her from their roster.
But the Warner Bros. talent scout who had originally noticed Mary Frances still believed in her. He called his counterpart at MGM to arrange an interview, and he even personally took the teenage actress to the rival studio for the meeting! MGM signed Reynolds and put her through their rigorous starlet training program. She later recalled that at MGM:
You never stopped studying. Ballet, tap, modern dance. Placing the voice properly; how to sing; how to walk and move; how to model, how to hold your hands, how to hold your head, knowing the angle right for the camera; how to do makeup, how to do hair… Anytime you walked on the lot, there was activity, and often music… If you didn’t like it, you had to be bananas. If you didn’t learn from it, you had to be a moron.
Well, Reynolds definitely wasn’t a moron! She excelled, soaking up the lessons and working like crazy to get better. Her dedication paid off when producer Jack Cummings cast her as the singer Helen Kane in Three Little Words (1950) about songwriters Bert Kalmer and Harry Ruby. She performed “I Wanna Be Loved by You” (though the real Helen Kane dubbed Reynolds’ voice) with Carleton Carpenter.
She was great in the part and began getting fan mail, something that MGM and the other studios closely monitored to gauge how popular its actors were with audiences.
MGM realized that Reynolds had potential and cast her as Powell’s little sister in Two Weeks, where she performs two numbers with Carpenter. If something worked, MGM repeated it!
Besides Powell and Reynolds, this movie stars Ricardo Montalban, a Mexican actor who came to Hollywood in the late 1940s. He had an extremely long career, including iconic roles in television and films such as Star Trek (as the original Khan) and Fantasy Island.
Harding had been in movies since 1929, and she became a huge star at RKO in the 1930s. She was famous for her dramatic roles and her long blonde hair. But she “retired” in 1937 and only acted occasionally after that. She and Calhern would star in The Magnificent Yankee (1950) together, which started filming right after Two Weeks wrapped and premiered about a month after this film.
To the movie! We open with a swooping crane shot that lasts a whopping one minute and forty seconds. During that extremely long take, we circle the “Southern Mansion” set on MGM’s backlot, which in this movie stands in for a sort of town square.
You might recognize the columned facade from any number of films, including Good News (1947) when it becomes a college building, On An Island With You (1948) when it’s the backdrop for a wedding, or High Society (1956) when it’s Tracy Lord’s house.
Horatio Robinson (Louis Calhern) conducts the orchestra while his seventeen-year-old daughter, Patti (Jane Powell), regales the crowd with her soaring soprano. We can tell by the costumes that this is a period piece set in the 1910’s. You can watch the performance here.
Patti’s mother, Katherine Robinson (Ann Harding), watches the concert from their house across the square. But she and her three other children can’t devote too much attention to the concert because they are in a hurry to leave for their annual vacation in the Catskills. And they still have packing to do!
Melba (Debbie Reynolds) enlivens the scene considerably as she stomps around packing her French horn and helping her silly little brothers. In fact, she’s my favorite part of the movie.
After the frenzied packing and departure, the family arrives at the Swanley House Resort. Fun fact: the hotel set had previously appeared in Annie Get Your Gun (1950), which was released in May 1950.
Sweet, besotted Billy (Carleton Carpenter), whose father (Clinton Sundberg) runs the resort, rushes to carry Patti’s bags to her room. She doesn’t return his crush, though, because he’s just sixteen, and she’s decided that she’s only interested in adult men. Poor Billy can’t quite get Patti’s disinterest through his head, which is doubly unfortunate because Melba thinks that he’s the greatest thing she’s ever seen.
Melba and Patti receive a visit from an old resort pal as they settle into their room. It’s Valerie (Phyllis Kirk), who at nineteen is quite sophisticated with her updo and tales of life on the stage (she’s an actress.). Valerie has all the markers of adulthood that Patti covets: she wears her hair up, her dresses long, and her waist cinched. She pretends to be Patti’s best friend, but actually she seems to enjoy making the younger girl feel extra-immature. For instance, Valerie parades around in her new corset even though she knows that Patti isn’t allowed to wear one until she turns eighteen.
Melba sees right through Valerie’s pretentious charade, but Patti is so desperate to be as grown up as Valerie that she doesn’t realize that her idol is a passive aggressive jerk. She also can’t see that Valerie is jealous of Patti’s natural beauty and unaffected charm. Fun fact: Valerie makes a big deal about being a whole two years older than Patti, and that was the actual age difference between Powell and Kirk!
That evening, Patti is despairing of another summer as a “child” when handsome newcomer Demi Armendez (Ricardo Montalban) arrives in the dining room with his aunt. Patti thinks he’s wonderful, but her first impression is spoiled by a milk mustache. How embarrassing!
She flees the dining room, but on her way out manages to upset an entire tray of tapioca pudding on her new crush. Mortifying! To his credit, Demi finds the whole thing amusing.
After dinner, Melba and the gang entertain themselves with an impromptu performance.
Melba thinks that she’s making progress with Billy, but as soon as Patti appears he forgets about the younger sister in favor of the older, despite Patti’s repeated comments about how young he is and how she really isn’t interested.
Billy convinces Patti to sing “The Oceana Roll.” She forgets her teen angst in the song and gets the whole room dancing. You can watch the scene here.
After the song, Patti dismisses dear Billy and heads outside where she meets Demi. He was charmed by their awkward encounter in the dining room, and he offers to take her for ice cream. Just as they start to leave, Valerie joins them. She wants Demi for herself, and she wastes no time making Patti seem even younger than she is. Then Patti’s mother calls for her to come upstairs because it’s bedtime. The timing could not be worse.
Fun fact: Powell and Reynolds share an April 1 birthday (1929 and 1932, respectively) and they celebrated their 21st and 17th birthdays on set while making this movie. Here they are blowing out their candles after filming these first-night-at-the-resort-scenes:
The next day, the whole Robinson family heads to the beach where this charming sign greets visitors:
As usual, Patti is being a real downer because she is so ashamed of her childish “potato sack” bathing costume. When Demi and Valerie show up, Patti frantically tells her brothers and sister to bury her in the sand so that they won’t see her. Melba helpfully covers Patti’s head with a bucket, then both sisters watch in horror as Valerie removes her cape to reveal a scandalous bathing suit!
It’s similar to what Esther Williams wears as Annette Kellerman in Million Dollar Mermaid (1952). As we learned in that movie (based on a true story), one-piece bathing suits were very controversial when they first appeared.
Patti feels even worse when she compares Valerie’s daring bathing suit to her baggy, two-piece tunic and bloomers. Patti’s father comes across her buried in the sand, and he is upset that his darling Patti is ashamed to be seen. So he finds his wife and berates her for dressing their daughter so poorly. But she explains that she is trying to keep Patti young (on the outside) for as long as possible to keep boys away. She doesn’t want to lose Patti to marriage too early, so maintaining a childish wardrobe is a conscious strategy enacted to keep Patti safe and innocent. Father agrees completely with that plan.
That evening, Melba sings “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” with her crush. (Apparently, singing songs is the only evening entertainment at this resort if you’re under eighteen.) But Billy and Melba are adorable together.
Meanwhile, Valerie kindly seeks out Patti to give her some advice. She tells the younger girl that Demi wants a “clinging vine,” a helpless, weak lady. But actually he told Valerie earlier that he likes how independent and self-reliant American women are. Saboteur! Valerie explains that Patti should try to emulate Theda Bara, the silent film star who was famously sultry and distant onscreen. Of course, Patti imitating Theda Bara is a ridiculous idea, but poor Patti can’t see that.
When she runs into Demi a little later, she tries to put Valerie’s cruel advice into action. Melba watches from the shadows and eats candy like a typical little sister.
Patti’s plan backfires beautifully when Demi asks if she would like to join him in a canoe. She lies and says that she’d love to but she can’t swim. She’s trying to woo him by being weak and clingy, remember. So instead he asks Valerie.
Patti spies on the pair from the bank as various couples croon the song “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” which was a 1909 tune (and the title of a 1953 Doris Day and Gordon MacRae musical.)
Eventually Patti gets her own boat. As she floats along, she has a vivid daydream, basically a hallucination, in which Demi is in the boat with her. It’s all wonderful and romantic until he embraces her and recoils in disgust when he realizes that she isn’t wearing a corset.
Patti pleas with dream-Demi so emphatically that she falls into the lake. The real Demi thinks that she is drowning because she told him that she can’t swim. But actually she makes it to the shore just fine.
A heart-to-heart between Demi and Patti in a nearby barn quashes any serious misunderstandings, though Patti is terrified of Demi getting too close and realizing that she doesn’t wear a corset. Apparently her hallucination has made her even more conscious of that important item.
The next evening is the annual dance, which Patti is usually very excited about. But this year she is too ashamed to go because of her childish dress and lack of a corset. Her parents’ plan to keep her single is working, I guess, but not without some serious damage to her self-confidence.
Billy begs Patti to go to the dance, and he even promises to find some long pants to wear. He, too, is stuck in clothes that are too young for him, though in his case it’s knee-length breeches instead of long trousers. Patti agrees, so Billy runs off to find some pants. Meanwhile, Patti sneaks some glances at Valerie and Demi. Valerie is doing her best to entrance him, but he doesn’t seem that interested.
Unfortunately, Billy never makes it to the party because his dad catches him in the stolen trousers. Then Demi notices Patti, so she has to come out of the shadows. He asks her to dance, and they have a lovely turn about the porch despite Patti’s efforts to keep him from realizing she is corset-less.
He ends the dance with a kiss on the cheek, which almost overwhelms innocent Patti. It’s a very sweet scene, though I don’t know why adult Demi is interested in a high-strung seventeen-year-old like Patti…
She consents to go into the main party with Demi, but when Valerie sees them together she gets jealous and starts telling everyone that Patti doesn’t wear a corset. Apparently this is a really shameful secret, because soon everyone is snickering at Patti as she dances. It’s really horrible. I don’t know why everyone at this resort is so mean.
Patti flees the dance in tears, Demi chases her, and Patti’s parents follow, too. She weeps to her father about her humiliation while Billy tries to fight Demi for making Patti cry (he’s confused). Then Father gets mad at Mother for not letting Patti wear age-appropriate clothes.
Despite the cruelty and shame of this scene, it’s actually really funny because of the clever dialogue. Patti sobs to her father that “I didn’t want it to happen” and says she is “so ashamed” of her “dark secret.” She speaks of the pressure that she feels because she is “the only girl who is almost eighteen who doesn’t…” before trailing off in tears. Father doesn’t realize for a while that she is talking about the corset situation, and he thinks that Patti may have lost her innocence to Demi! He almost fights Demi after hearing that, and you can’t blame him!
Anyway, Father and Mother are so mad at each other that Mother goes to sleep in the girls’ room and Father heads to the boys’. But his cigar accidentally ignites a whole mess of fireworks under the bed that his mischievous sons stole from the resort’s Fourth of July celebration.
The firework explosions look fairly primitive compared to today’s special effects, but it’s funny nonetheless. The poor owner of the hotel watches as errant fireworks set off the carefully arranged pyrotechnics outside on the lawn. He ruefully wishes himself a “Happy 3rd.”
The next day, Father overhears Patti and Billy discussing how parents just don’t understand what they’re going through. They mean well, but boy, do they screw things up for their kids!
Father is horrified by the idea that his parenting causes such anguish, so he asks his three youngest children if they are happy and if they want anything. Melba and her brothers have no idea what he’s talking about as they haven’t reached the angsty teen phase yet. But there is a very cute moment when Father asks Melba, “Is there anything you want?” She says no and then glances at Billy before adding, “What I want I think I can get for myself.” Oh, Melba!
Fun fact: the youngest boy (in the middle) is Tommy Rettig, whom you might know from Lassie. He played Jeff Miller on the show for three seasons between 1954-1957, but he made eighteen films before that famous role.
After chatting with his youngest children, Father goes to find Patti and promises his humiliated daughter that he will buy her a corset. Hurray!
He heads into town to do some shopping, leaving Patti to daydream about the fantastic corset she will soon get to wear.
Cue the fantasy sequence! We open with a very grown-up looking Patti in a pink satin corset with tulle ruffles. No one seems scandalized that Patti forgot to put her dress on over her undergarments because they are so wowed by her corset. Or distracted by the enormous beauty mark to the right of her mouth.
Patti struts and sings “My Hero” from the 1908 operetta The Chocolate Soldier (which you might recall was the show referenced in the corset ad.) She easily lures Demi away from Valerie.
Then the scene shifts and suddenly everyone is wearing fairytale clothes–you know, the faux 19th century garb of Cinderella. Demi joins Patti for a dance, duels Billy and wins, then prances with Patti some more.
I’m pretty sure that Montalban’s voice was dubbed for this song and it sounds ridiculous–way too big and operatic. But it fits the number, which is terribly lush and romantic, but fakey, too. After all, it’s a teenage girl’s dream! And a teenage girl’s logic: according to Patti, wearing a corset will make her life perfect, and the lack of a rib-squishing, steel cage is the only thing that’s holding her back!
It’s a wild number:
Meanwhile, in town, the dress shop is closed, but Father sees a corset on display in the drugstore window. He doesn’t realize that it’s a “surgical corset” because the label has fallen over. He buys it and rushes back to the resort without ever realizing his mistake. But the audience knows…
That night is the highly anticipated talent show. First, Melba and Billy perform “Row, Row, Row,” another vintage hit which dates back to the Ziegfeld Follies of 1912. (For more on the Ziegfeld Follies, read my review of the 1946 movie.) Busby Berkeley choreographed the dances in this movie, which is rather fitting for these vaudeville style numbers. He started out on the stage and served as dance director for over twenty Broadway musicals in the 1920s.
You can watch it here:
After the performance, we follow Melba and Billy backstage to witness some drama. Valerie finds out that Patti plans to sing in the show, and she refuses to perform if Patti does (she must realize how much more talented Patti is.) The cowed hotel owner is too afraid of Valerie to protest, so Patti bows out.
But horrors! Just before Valerie is supposed to dance the tango with Demi, she realizes that her dancing slippers have disappeared. And she can’t dance without them!
Valerie accuses Billy of the theft, and he admits to it. But when he goes to retrieve her shoes from their hiding place, he can’t find them! Valerie is so mad that she quits the show. So Melba suggests that Patti go on in Valerie’s place. Fortunately, Patti knows the choreography because she spied on Demi and Valerie during rehearsals.
We then learn that Melba hid Valerie’s slippers after Billy stole them. Her crime finally makes Billy think of her not as his crush’s little sister, but as a super-cute girl in her own right! The lesson here is to steal because it makes boys like you.
Meanwhile, Patti imprisons herself in her new corset (she doesn’t realize that it’s a medical device, either) and borrows her mother’s fanciest black gown. Showtime!
It goes wonderfully until the final dip. Patti’s corset locks when she bends backwards and she is stuck in that awkward position.
Mother rushes to the rescue and un-hooks the corset, berating her silly husband for buying a surgical corset instead of a normal one. But then she realizes that of course her husband wasn’t equipped to buy such a thing–it’s a mother’s job!
As silly as it might seem, the corset really does “fix” Patti’s life. Demi finally sees her as an adult woman and asks if he can call on her when they get back to the city.
Mother and Father watch Demi take their daughter for a stroll in the darkness and seem oddly okay with it. They talk about how children must grow up, and how it’s a parent’s duty and privilege to watch them flourish. But it seems weird–their entire goal was to keep boys away from their daughter, but suddenly they’re fine with a much older man romancing Patti? Strange.
But that’s Two Weeks with Love! It was in production in the spring of 1950 from March to May, and premiered in November. It’s not the greatest film ever made, and it wasn’t seen as anything terribly special when it was released. The New York Times reviewer was lukewarm at best, noting that
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, whose corporate heart undoubtedly is young and gay and has a large niche in it for Jane Powell, is treating its youthful singing star to a frivolous excursion complete with songs and none too witty sayings…Despite the quaint period costuming, pleasing Technicolor and pre-World War I score, it is still a trifling fable about the tribulations, romantic and otherwise, of a family vacationing in the Catskills, in which the enthusiasm of the cast is superior to its assignment.
The review singled out Jane Powell, noting that the movie uses “her soprano to advantage,” and “a dream sequence—the film’s sole inventive bit for this corner’s money—provides her with the opportunity of modeling the acme in corsets and other female fripperies, displaying a trim pair of legs and caroling “My Hero” to her dream man.”
But the reviewer saved his best compliments for Debbie Reynolds, writing that Reynolds “is, in this viewer’s opinion, the most promising performer in the piece. As Miss Powell’s sister who is doggedly intent on snatching the affections of Carleton Carpenter, she delivers a line of songs and dances such as ‘Row, Row, Row’ and ‘Aba Daba Honeymoon’ with professional grace and verve.” I must agree!
Reynolds’ career really took off after this movie. MGM sent her on a publicity tour with Carleton Carpenter to promote the film and their songs, and they paid close attention to her increasing fan mail.
Reynolds had a smallish role in Mr. Imperium (1951), but then starred in Singin’ in the Rain (1952) when she was only nineteen. It was just her sixth film and her first leading role–not too shabby!
Besides launching Reynolds down the path to stardom, Two Weeks with Love also helped Powell successfully make the transition to adult roles opposite adult men. She starred in Royal Wedding (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), and Hit the Deck (1955), among many others. Fun fact: she would work with Debbie Reynolds again in Athena (1954) and Hit the Deck.