Sunday, December 6, 2009

Movie: The Reluctant Debutante

We just saw this 1958 Vincente Minnelli classic at the splendid Stanford Theatre. It's a fine funny movie, starring Rex Harrison as Lord Broadbent, Kay Kendall as his new wife, and Sandra Dee as his daughter.

But I'm going to remember it for one primary reason: It has a likable Thin Lady.

Thin Ladies were defined for me by Lora Brody, the author of Growing Up On The Chocolate Diet. Thin Ladies are, of course, thin. And perfectly coiffed and manicured. Their clothes are fashionable, new, and free of chocolate splatters. (Lora Brody gets her chocolate splatters by cooking; I get mine by going to the coffee shop with the Best Hot Chocolate In The World and then being clumsy on the way home.) Thin Ladies don't eat, they just consume enough calories to keep moving.

I generally don't like Thin Ladies. A taste for fried chicken and a propensity for chocolate spatters will do that to a person.

This movie has a Thin Lady. She's utterly fashionable. She rejects cups of tea from her husband's devoted secretary, pouring them into plants while the secretary's not looking. She speculates about whether her stepdaughter will be sufficiently attractive and stylish. She traps said stepdaughter into doing the London debutante season, and then encourages and thwarts the wrong romances, based largely on snobbish criteria. And she wears feather boas. Without the irony.

I ought to heartily dislike her. And I don't.

I consider this a triumph of acting by Kay Kendall, who plays the snobbish Thin Lady stepmother. She plays the role with such a convincing air of well-meaning Siamese-cat bewilderment and doesn't-know-any-better that you're willing to forgive her, even as you wish that Rex Harrison and Sandra Dee would just shove her into a closet until the action is resolved.

Photo of Kay Kendall. Wikimedia Commons

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