Rich, Young and Pretty (1951)
This has one of the most obnoxious titles ever, but try to move past it. The film does concern a rich, young, and pretty girl–but so do a lot of movies! I think that “Pretty in Paris” or the film’s working title, “Welcome to Paris,” would have been preferable to Rich, Young and Pretty, but maybe MGM didn’t want to compete with An American in Paris (1951), which came out a few months after this movie.
This film follows the title character on a trip to Paris where she has a cute romance and encounters plenty of sparkle. Throw in some mama-drama and a heaping helping of musical numbers, and you’ve got a bright, perky Technicolor fling.
It stars Jane Powell, that petite blonde songstress who was stuck playing precocious teens for about a decade. She plays yet another girl on the edge of adulthood in this film, though this tension is less pronounced than in Nancy Goes to Rio (1950) or Two Weeks with Love (1950).
Powell’s repetitive film trajectory of girl to almost-woman isn’t surprising, as this movie was produced by Joe Pasternak, who made his name with films starring child star Deanna Durbin. He always had an eye on teen talent, and specialized in films starring youthful actors. Plus, the movie was directed by Norman Taurog, who had a lot of experience working with youngsters, including Jackie Cooper, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in their early years, and Kathryn Grayson, who was basically a brunette Jane Powell but a few years older. In fact, Powell was assigned the teen parts that Grayson had outgrown. So it’s not a shock that Powell plays a devoted daughter in this movie, even though she was 22 years old. And married. And pregnant. More on that later!
Danielle Darrieux got second billing after Powell. She was a very famous French actress and singer who started in films in 1931 in France and became a star with 1938’s Mayerling. After that success, she came to Hollywood and co-starred with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in The Rage of Paris (1938), but returned to France afterwards.
Rich, Young and Pretty was her second American film, though she would make a few more in the 1950s, and appear with Gene Kelly and George Chakiris in Jacques Demy’s wonderful musical The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967).
Wendell Corey plays Powell’s father. He was usually seen in dramas or film noirs, but he does a nice job in this movie.
Fernando Lamas has limited screen time, but he makes the most of it. Lamas was an Argentinean actor who had achieved success in his native country and in Mexican films. This was his second Hollywood film after 1950’s The Avengers, an adventure movie set in 17th century Argentina. Lamas would go on to perfect the “Latin Lover” character in films and in his real life persona. You may recognize him from Billy Crystal’s SNL skits with the “You look mahvelous” catchphrase.
Fun fact: Lamas married Arlene Dahl in 1952 but they divorced in 1960. He married Esther Williams in 1969, with whom he swam so beautifully in Dangerous When Wet (1953). Lamas was a champion swimmer, one of Williams’ few co-stars who could keep up with her.
Una Merkel, that charming “best friend” in the 1930s who transitioned to “trusty housekeeper” roles in the 1950s appears as– you guessed it!–the trusty housekeeper. Apparently, Marjorie Main was originally cast in this role, but eventually Merkel got the part.
Vic Damone rounds out the cast. This was the 23-year-old’s first movie, but not his first moment in the spotlight. He signed a record deal in 1947, got his own radio show in 1948, and performed in some of the most famous nightclubs in the country for years. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood scooped up the handsome crooner.
To the film! We open on a sprawling ranch in Texas. The owner, Jim Rogers (Wendell Corey) is an important, wealthy fellow who is leaving for Paris to attend a United Nations conference. He’s bringing his daughter Elizabeth (Jane Powell), and his faithful housekeeper Glynnie (Una Merkel) along, too.
They arrive in Paris where Jim gets weirdly protective of his daughter, shielding her face with his jacket when photographers attempt to get pictures. We don’t know why…
Cut to a lovely lady named Marie Devarone (Danielle Darrieux) who is thrilled at the photo of Jim and his raincoat. Her boyfriend Paul (Fernando Lamas) joins her and they discuss Jim’s visit.
As they chat, it’s revealed that Marie is Elizabeth’s mother! But she and and her ex-husband are not on good terms, so she’s afraid that Jim won’t let her see Elizabeth. Paul promises to help. He also oozes suave sex appeal. For instance, when he talks with Marie, he gives her the old “up and down” gaze so it looks as though he’s about to start making out with her at any moment.
Cut back to the Rogers. The father and daughter enjoy a night on the town, and they laugh delightedly when people confuse them for a couple. It’s uncomfortable and icky.
At one hotspot, the proud Texans ask musicians to perform “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” The entire restaurant eventually joins in. This strikes me as very un-Parisian.
Fun fact: as I mentioned, even though Powell plays a very young, innocent lady devoted to her father in this movie, in reality she was 22 and had been married for two years.
Her previous film, Royal Wedding (1951), was the first in which she played an adult woman, but MGM immediately threw her back into a “daughter” role in this movie. She wouldn’t get another grown-up part until Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954).
Powell found out she was pregnant with her first child as she finished Royal Wedding. When she told MGM, the studio decided to go ahead with Rich, Young and Pretty and try to finish before Powell began to show. They succeeded, but she was terribly morning sick almost the entire time, and eventually couldn’t drive. To keep cameras rolling, the studio sent a car to pick her up and take her home. Powell’s son was born about six months after the movie wrapped.
Back to the film! When Jim and Elizabeth return to the hotel, Jim finds roses with a note from Marie welcoming him to Paris. The note triggers a flashback: it’s 1927 and Jim sees Marie perform in Paris. Her opening act is this surreal can-can number with a wall of human legs:
Then Marie appears. Jim is entranced immediately. And who can blame him? She’s dazzling.
You can watch the performance here:
After the show, Jim persuades Marie to go on a date. She’s reluctant at first, but quickly falls for the handsome Texan. They get married soon after they meet.
Fun fact: the bridge by their picnic spot is “Waterloo Bridge” on MGM’s backlot. It appeared in dozens of movies, including The Three Musketeers (1948) and Royal Wedding (1951), when it played a London location.
The newlyweds settle at Jim’s ranch in Texas. But the love and camaraderie that blossomed so quickly in Paris fades just as fast. Marie is homesick, she doesn’t fit in, and she misses her old life. But about a year after their marriage, baby Elizabeth arrives. Marie hangs around until she is two years old. Then she flees to France, leaving just a note behind. She hasn’t seen Jim nor Elizabeth since.
Flash to the present! Marie’s desertion is why Jim is determined that Elizabeth should never meet her mother.
The next day, Jim heads to London for the United Nations conference. (Here’s a question: if he was so worried about Marie, why even go to Paris? Just go straight to London!)
Jim’s colleague Monsieur Milan brings his very handsome son Andre (Vic Damone) to the hotel to pick up Jim, and it’s attraction at first sight for Andre and Elizabeth.
As they’re getting acquainted, a famous painter named Claude Duval (Marcel Dalio, another veteran French actor) rushes into the room and demands to paint Elizabeth. She’s hesitant, and also confused about how Duval heard of her, but Andre explains that one doesn’t say no to Monsieur Duval! So she agrees. (Remember, the title doesn’t say anything about her mental faculties! “Rich, Young, Pretty and Smart” doesn’t have the same ring to it…)
They go to his studio that day. Guess who is hiding in another room? Marie! She arranged the portrait scheme with her good friend Claude so that she could see her daughter.
Marie asks Claude to suggest Le Parisien, the very fancy nightclub where she performs, and Andre and Elizabeth make plans to go that evening.
They sing a duet across the city as they prepare for their big date. It’s a sweet song called “I Can See You” that’s less creepy than the title suggests. It’s about how you hold the image of your love in your heart so that he’s with you even when you’re apart. But MGM spoils the loveliness with a final shot of the two rooms split by a common wall. It’s a clunky visual metaphor that’s too obvious for the song.
You can watch it here:
MGM liked to show Powell singing in deshabille as she prepares for a date. At least in Rich, Young and Pretty she doesn’t have to sing to a toy penguin.
Elizabeth’s strapless navy dress with the pleated skirt is quite pretty, but I wish she didn’t wear that little Dutch cap all evening. It was very stylish at the time, though. Also, before she changes into the dress, she dances around in yet another voluminous robe. She wore a white and green one earlier, but goes with the red for the evening. I don’t know about you, but I always bring multiple, full-skirted bathrobes when I travel, too.
When the pair arrive at Le Parisien, they get the best table, which is soon laden with the best champagne and food. (All thanks to Marie, of course.) Poor Andre gets nervous because he’s just a government clerk, and the evening has gotten much more expensive than he planned. But Elizabeth doesn’t notice. Remember, she’s not just young and pretty, she’s rich, too!
But don’t worry–Marie has taken care of everything. The maître d’, played by Hans Conried, lies and says that the meal is on the house because Le Parisien is so honored to host a government clerk! Those hardworking fellows are the real heroes! Andre believes him. Perhaps he’s not very bright. Good thing he’s young and pretty.
As Elizabeth and Andre enjoy their decadent meal, Marie and Paul perform an adorable tune. I like Marie’s green gloves and her matching green slippers! Helen Rose designed the costumes and went for color and splash.
You can watch the scene here:
After the number, Marie heads straight for Elizabeth and Andre. She’s very interested in Elizabeth, but no one wonders why that is. Eventually, Marie has to visit other VIPs, but she watches her daughter all evening, and she’s thrilled that Elizabeth is so happy.
After enjoying Le Parisien, Andre and Elizabeth go to another club. They start singing as they dance (as one does), but don’t realize it until the song ends and everyone claps for their impromptu performance. They’re a little embarrassed.
You can watch the silly besotted kids below. The song, “Wonder Why,” received an Oscar nomination for Best Song, but Here Comes the Groom (1951) took home the prize for “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” performed by Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman.
Damone and Powell have great chemistry, which is unsurprising as they’d enjoyed a very brief courtship in real life a few years before. They met in New York where Powell had a singing gig, and they went dancing one evening. Apparently, Damone was quite taken with Powell and sent her a gold and ruby necklace the next day. But that was the extent of their affair. They would appear together again in Athena (1954), though Debbie Reynolds ends up with Damone in that film. But Powell and Damone would play lovers again in Hit the Deck (1955).
Fun fact: Howard Keel and Elizabeth Taylor stopped by the set when they were filming these scenes. Keel would star with Powell in a few years in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), but he was currently filming Show Boat (1951) with Kathryn Grayson.
Elizabeth Taylor and Powell were good friends; in fact, Taylor had been Powell’s bridesmaid when she married Geary Anthony Steffen in 1949.
Back to the film! The next day, Jim calls Elizabeth and she tells him that she has met a wonderful woman named Marie Devarone! Jim is upset and decides to return to Paris. Meanwhile, Andre and Elizabeth go back to Claude’s for another sitting.
Costume appreciation break. In her portrait, Elizabeth wears the white and gold dress that she wore on the first night with her father. Fun fact: MGM licensed the Helen Rose design to several stores. A version of the dress in black lace over “shrimp-red satin,” black over black, or black over peacock could be purchased at Macy’s and J.L. Hudson’s, among others. Product tie-ins are nothing new!
Marie comes to Claude’s, too, and asks Elizabeth all about herself. Elizabeth mentions in an offhand way that her mother died when she was very young–I’d been wondering what Jim told his daughter!
It’s cruel to lie and say she died (is that kinder than admitting she left?), but I suppose Jim was very angry and never thought they’d see Marie again.
Also, he never told his daughter that her mother was French or a singer, so Elizabeth has been living with a false idea of her mother all her life. The movie glosses over this, and also doesn’t get into the oddness of Marie never trying to see her daughter until she comes to Paris.
Meanwhile, Jim is in an airplane hurrying to Paris. I love images of air travel in this era.
After the sitting, Andre and Elizabeth return to the hotel and do some more singing and dancing. I really like Vic Damone’s smooth voice, so I don’t mind all the songs. I’ve loved his version of “Stranger in Paradise” with Ann Blyth from Kismet (1955) for years, so I’m all about these romantic duets.
But as some reviews noted, the plot is really there just to string the musical numbers together. You watch the movie for the performances and the pretty visuals, not the narrative.
Jim arrives and breaks up the cute duet. Andre chooses that inauspicious moment to ask Jim for his daughter’s hand. Jim is stunned. (And so are we! It’s been less than two days since they met.) Jim refuses and then forbids Elizabeth from seeing Andre or Marie. She is upset and goes out with Andre anyway. It’s the first crack in the very close father-daughter bond…
That evening, a deeply concerned Jim hightails it to Le Parisien to talk with Marie.
It’s an echo of their first meeting but without the sparks of young love. Now, it’s flaming daggers of hurt and anger that fly between them.
Afterwards, they chat and Jim explains his fears about Elizabeth and Andre. How can a girl and boy from such different worlds make their love last? It didn’t work for Jim and Marie, and Jim is afraid it won’t work for his daughter, either. Plus, the kids have known each for a hot second.
Marie (beautiful in my favorite dress) reluctantly agrees that the gulf between Elizabeth’s world and Andre’s might be too great. But she asks Jim to let her handle it. She will test the relationship, and if it’s just infatuation magnified by the magic of Paris, she will make sure that Elizabeth returns home without Andre.
Jim leaves just as Andre and Elizabeth arrive at Le Parisien. Marie spends the evening chatting with the couple. She is sincere in her promise to Jim, but she wants to spend as much time getting to know Elizabeth as she can.
They talk all evening until the club is deserted. Then Andre, Paul, and Elizabeth perform “Old Piano Roll Blues” for Marie. Fun fact: the lyrics reference “The Oceana Roll,” an old standard that Powell performed in Two Weeks with Love (1950).
The world these people inhabit is so joyful and uninhibited: it’s a place where you start singing just because there’s a piano! That’s the charm of musicals. You can watch it here:
After the number, the young lovers skedaddle to another club called Harry’s Little America. It’s a strange place where you order breakfast but cook it yourself on a little stove next to your table as a quartet of hyper guys in chef hats serenade you. It’s “The Four Freshmen,” a popular big band style/barbershop group. Fun fact: the group still exists, though the last original member retired in 1993.
The song is “How D’Ya Like Your Eggs in the Morning,” which is mildly suggestive for this era. But it’s okay because they’re in public making eggs at 3AM. But all these musical numbers suggest that Paris is a place where everyone speaks English (and loves doing it!) and also sings all the time. Fun fact: that’s not true.
As their breakfast burns beside them, Andre proposes to Elizabeth. He qualifies it with, “I never thought I’d propose over a breakfast table!” This movie is getting saucy! She says yes, of course.
Fun fact: as I mentioned before, Powell was pregnant during the filming of this movie and suffered from nearly constant morning sickness. This scene was particularly unpleasant to film as she had to mess with eggs and bacon when just thinking about food made her nauseous. She got through it, though, and you’d never know she was sick. Also, the slightly less formfitting dress she wears in this scene may have been intended to camouflage Powell’s growing middle.
The next day, the engaged couple go to Marie’s house for lunch. They’re deliriously happy, gazing into each other’s eyes and holding hands. But then Marie starts asking questions. She hasn’t forgotten her promise to Jim.
First, she innocently enquires where the couple plans to live. “Paris!” says Andre. “Texas!” says Elizabeth, at the same time. Uh oh.
Marie asks if Andre’s salary can support Elizabeth in the style to which she is accustomed. “Probably not,” he admits. This isn’t great news for Elizabeth. She chimes in with “I have an annuity!” but Andre announces, “I’ll support us myself!”
“Why don’t you come to Texas and work for my father?” she suggests. “Never! I’ll make my own way!” he yells. Eventually, Elizabeth dumps Andre and runs home. (What can you expect? The title isn’t “Rich, Young, Emotionally Mature, Sensible, and Pretty!”)
Marie has succeeded, though she feels a little bad. But I don’t! Those aren’t unfair questions at all. They are questions couples should talk about. How in the world can you expect your relationship to last if you don’t discuss important things like geography, money, and family?
Also, the mere fact that Elizabeth and Andre can’t even talk about these issues without getting mad and saying mean things is a very bad sign. As a side note, Elizabeth’s suit is oddly 1980s with the acid green swirls.
Back at the hotel, Elizabeth cries and begs to go home. So her father gets tickets on a plane leaving that night. Then Elizabeth tries to call Andre and apologize, but he’s left Paris! All is lost.
On the way to the airport, Elizabeth stops by Le Parisien to say goodbye to Marie. (I also always fly in a tailored suit, pillbox hat, and gloves. Ahh, the glamour of the past! And the discomfort…) They chat for a moment about Andre, and Marie is horrified to learn that Elizabeth really does love him.
Marie can’t stand to see her daughter upset, so she tells Elizabeth to wait there while she fixes the situation. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to go far, because Andre has come to Le Parisien, too. Marie tells him to wait in the adjacent dressing room. Soon the stupid young people discover that they’re next door to each other, and they reconcile.
Then Jim comes in looking for his daughter. Marie takes him into a dressing room and loudly tells him that just because their marriage didn’t work, doesn’t mean that their daughter can’t figure it out. Weirdly, Elizabeth isn’t floored by the realization that 1. her mother isn’t dead 2. her father has been lying to her all these years, and 3. Marie is her mother!
Elizabeth’s reaction to the news is a smile and an exclamation of “She’s my mother!” She says it in a mildly surprised way, as one might remark “I have the same dress” or “My cousin is named Barbara, too!” It’s a very underwhelmed reaction to a huge revelation.
Also, she apparently feels no anger towards her father for lying to her all these years, nor towards Marie for deserting her. I don’t expect this movie to go deep into emotions, but her reaction and Andre’s comment of “That’s wonderful!” are comically unbelievable. (You could add “Shallow” to the adjectives in the title and it would work!)
Anyway, the group reunites for embraces all around. Elizabeth has no questions for her parents (again, totally realistic), and Jim and Marie give the young couple their blessing. Andre and Elizabeth still haven’t resolved any of the issues that caused their fight in the first place, but such mundane concerns as where to live and how to pay the bills have no place in romance!
Everyone heads back to the stage where Claude shows them his portrait of Elizabeth. He works fast!
Then Marie and Paul serenade the group with a reprise of “Paris.” Eventually, the table floats into the night sky above the city in a visual representation of their soaring happiness. The End!
It’s the same effect that flopped so spectacularly in The Belle of New York (1952). It’s okay in this movie because it’s just used at the end.
This movie was in production in mid-November 1950 to the end of January 1951. It premiered in August, 1951 to mostly positive reviews. It did well at the box office thanks to Powell’s fans and audiences anxious to see Vic Damone’s film debut. A masterpiece it isn’t, but it’s a fine representation of the colorful, lighthearted musicals of the era.
In his review of the movie, The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called Rich, Young and Pretty “appropriate summer entertainment” with the glamour and polish that was typical of MGM.
He wrote: “…both the tunes and the people—to say nothing of their surroundings—have been mounted with care and the elegance to which Metro has been accustomed.”
Crowther approved of the score, noting that the film “boasts quite a few lilting numbers” which the singers give “top treatment.” He was not the only one to enjoy the songs; some of the tunes found popularity on the radio, including “How Do You Like Your Eggs in the Morning,” and “I Can See You.” It’s fortunate that the songs were so well done, as the story really isn’t that engrossing.
As Crowther wrote, MGM and the cast made “much of a slight story, youthful and not-too-youthful songsters and Technicolor. ‘Rich, Young and Pretty‘ is, to put it into a nutshell, pretty as a picture postcard and just about as exciting.” Overall, Crowther summed up the film as “a standard songfest suitable for the summer.” I must agree, though I think its cheerful shine is great for any time of the year!
As to the cast, Crowther called Powell “fetching and cheerful as the Texas miss who is ready to break out into song over Paris and l’amour. And the ladies who are not ready to cheer about love are likely to turn appropriately green with envy over her wardrobe.” Yes, indeed!
But audiences would have to wait to see more of Miss Powell. After finishing this movie, she took a break to have her first child. She wouldn’t appear onscreen again until 1953’s Small Town Girl.
Crowther approved of Darrieux, too, writing that she “is making her return to American films attractively. She handles both her lines and songs with ease and verve.” Darrieux continued acting in French and American films, with her last appearance coming in 2010. She’s now 99 years old, and her eight decade career is one of the longest ever.
Newcomer Damone, that “idol of the bobby soxers, is somewhat stiff and callow in his screen debut,” declared the critic, but audiences didn’t seem to agree. MGM was pleased with the singer’s performance, but the studio had to wait for him to serve two years in the Army (1951-1953) before they could cast him in more musicals.
MGM also encouraged Damone to get a nose job, which he did, having always felt a little self-conscious of his profile. Compare his nose in Rich, Young and Pretty to Kismet (1955) or Hit the Deck (1955).
Lamas, whom Crowther called “a recruit from south of the border, whose strong voice and handsome profile might give the senior bobby soxers something to think about,” made the most of his brief appearances in this film. He was soon starring opposite some of the biggest leading ladies of the day.
Wendell Corey can’t really compete with Damone and Lamas in terms of handsome sex appeal, but he “adds a steadfast assist as Miss Powell’s father.” Corey would have starring roles in several more films, mostly dramas, as well as appearances in classics such as Rear Window (1954), and The Rainmaker (1956). He enjoyed a long career in television, too.
Although critics, and I imagine, most audiences saw this film as lighthearted, escapist fare, its gender dynamics haven’t aged very well. When critics and scholars began studying these films more seriously, some drew attention to the vision it presents of women.
For example, in Jeanine Basinger’s A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960, she called Rich, Young and Pretty “a treatise on the horrors of womanhood” because of its unrealistic portrayal of women’s lives, particularly Jane Powell’s character. Basinger wrote that “the impeccably turned-out Powell, doted on by everyone, was a cruel role model for young women in the audience.” (It makes Crowther’s comment about women in the audience turning “appropriately green with envy” over Powell’s clothes suddenly sound a little darker.)
Also, scholars drew attention to this movie and others like it with daughters who are oddly close to their single fathers…I don’t think this is a huge deal in the movie, though the way that Elizabeth and her father giggle when people confuse them for a couple is a little creepy. They are delighted by the mistake, and don’t bother to correct waiters who suggest a “discreet” table or comment on how romantic the evening is.
As with any art, you can enjoy and analyze this film on multiple levels, so choose how you’d prefer to think about it. Personally, I like how one can watch this movie purely for entertainment, but also dig deeper and get more academic or historical with it if one is so inclined. That’s a big part of the fun and fascination for me. They’re movies and historical artifacts and microcosms of cultural change and time capsules and gorgeous art works produced for mass audiences. Take your pick! There’s no one way to experience these films.
Final fun fact: Barry Sullivan’s character goes to a movie theater advertising this movie in Skirts Ahoy! (1952)