Movie review: ‘Dear Brigitte’

dbI was totally blown away by how good Bill Murray’s cameo is in “Zombieland” (click here for my review) and didn’t initially recall another cameo that could challenge it. After all, Murray is pitch-perfect as himself in that terrific gorefest of a film I consider the best of its genre over the past 15 years. However, I recently recalled an old film and rented it through amazon.com’s Instant Video and … WHAM! I found the one cameo that’s even better – Brigitte Bardot in the aptly titled film “Dear Brigitte.” It is a terrific old film starring screen legend James Stewart and it’s about a boy who pens nightly love letters to Bardot and gets paid to do homework (and handicap horse races) so he can afford the “air mail” stamps to send them off to France. Bardot was the top screen siren at the time and is terrific in “Dear Brigitte.” It’s easy to get this one ($2.99 in regular definition and $3.99 in high definition – plus tax – for 48 hours of rental), so check it out.

‘Dear Brigitte’
(1965; 100 minutes; not rated – read my explanation below; directed by Henry Koster and starring James Stewart, Glynis Johns and Fabian)

IT ALL ADDS UP TO A TERRIFIC OLD MOVIE

In coming up with ideas for movies to review, I dip back into my early movie-going days and I’ve come up with another from 1965 that I remember enjoying: “Dear Brigitte.” The other from that year is the 007 classic “Thunderball” (click here for my review) and while “Dear Brigitte” isn’t in the same class as an epic, legendary film, it does have great moments; excellent acting that “Thunderball” could only hope for; and a clever plot and some wonderful predictions about our technological future that have since sadly come true.

(CLICK HERE FOR ALL MY MOVIE REVIEWS)

Dear Brigitte” stars legendary Hollywood leading man James Stewart as “Professor Robert Leaf.” He’s a poet who loves the artistic side and who is vehemently opposed to the coming prominence of science on university campuses. He hates everything science and math and routinely quits his job in protest of the shrinking humanities in favor of the future (his words are prophetic, especially when he says a big machine will be built that will put a million men out of work – of course in the future it would only take sleazy corporate policies and disingenuous executives to accomplish even worse destruction for our society).

Much to Stewart’s disgust, his son “Erasmus,” who is played by Billy Mumy, is a math prodigy. The boy outdoes a bank computer, the university’s computer and ultimately winds up handicapping horse races. Mumy, who is best remembered from TV’s “Lost in Space” (it had its premiere the same year as “Dear Brigitte”) has a profit motive, though, since he needs to buy “air mail” stamps (ones that take letters across the Atlantic to Europe) as he writes nightly letters to Brigitte Bardot, who was just about every man’s fantasy at the time.

The movie is simply terrific in developing the characters of Stewart’s family and their interpersonal relationships. Nothing anti-hero here as everyone is mild-mannered, polite and actually respects one another. Since it is 1965, there’s not a computer in sight (except in a university lab — and it was a long way from Al Gore “inventing” the internet) and the family doesn’t watch any television – they give family concerts each evening.

Still, as Mumy’s handicapping activities get on the police department radar, Stewart is sucked into a confidence man’s scheme to make money off the boy. Everything moves along with money coming in (in Stewart’s mind for the foundation; in the con man’s action being spent on his champagne) and things rolling along until Bardot writes back to the boy and invites him to visit her in France.

Well, Mumy balks at doing any more profitable horse handicapping until he gets to go see Bardot and she provides a wonderful cameo that’s all too brief. While Bardot doesn’t stretch her talent in any way, she is affable and just being herself and therefore all too memorable here.

Of course it all wraps up neatly in the end after a few anxious moments. The bad guy isn’t even too bad since he winds up playing in one of the family’s concerts as the film ends.

Although she is focus of the film from its title to a boy’s dreams, Bardot’s direct screen presence lasts for just 6 minutes and 5 seconds and it is an uncredited role for her – a cameo … and a great one. I’ve already written how I first thought that Bill Murray’s in “Zombieland” (click here for my review) was best but updated my opinion upon rewatching “Dear Brigitte,” so I won’t belabor the point.

Here’s a rundown of members of the primary cast:

  • I don’t know what to make of Oscar winner Stewart here. He gives a truly memorable performance – he is endearing from his passion for the humanities to the parent protecting his child to being able to understand a boy’s fascination with Bardot. However, it’s an uneven performance as he overacts both with expressions and his exaggerated physical motions when making an exclamation point in a scene. At 6-foot-3 he’s towering by Hollywood’s typical usual superstar mini-men, so his gangly body here looks more slapstick than the comedy he was obviously trying to achieve. In any case, it’s a wonderful role for Stewart, who won his Oscar for “The Philadelphia Story” and was nominated for four other including the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Stewart died in 1997 at the age of 89.
  • An Oscar nominee for “The Sundowners,” Glynis Johns as wife “Vina Leaf” gives a career performance here (I didn’t see her nominated film). Johns is tough when she needs to be, always loving and breezes through the roles with all the confidence of any great actor. Johns was also terrific in “While You Were Sleeping” with Sandra Bullock (click here for my review) as well as “Mary Poppins” and “The Ref.” Johns will be 92 on her birthday this Oct. 5.
  • Mumy is very fortunate as “Erasmus ‘Ras’ Leaf.” He works with great actors, but he does solid work with his great lines from an excellent screenplay. He doesn’t overplay the smart kid routine and especially is low-key (by being a little boy overwhelmed by the star power of Bardot) when meeting the title character. Mumy was directed very well here and filmmakers benefited from his talent and comfort being in front of a camera. Mumy was a TV veteran (more than a dozen credits on TV alone) when “Dear Brigitte” had its premiere at only age 11. Sadly, he wasn’t one 1960s kid star who didn’t appear on “The Love Boat” (click here for my review of the series).
  • John Williams plays “Peregrine Upjohn” and is the “bad” guy here who tries to use Stewart and Mumy for his own purposes. The versatile Williams had experience on Broadway, television and films with being notable for his “urbane” characters. It’s no exception here and he’s smooth, convincing as a con man needs to be but also fatalistic when he loses the money to a good purpose. Williams is likable here and was noted for his work in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” and was in the classics “Sabrina” with Humphrey Bogart and “To Catch a Thief” with Cary Grant. He died at 80 in 1983 and his last credit was four years earlier on TV’s “Battlestar Galactica.”
  • Oscar nominee Jack Kruschen plays “Dr. Volker” and is the stereotypical shrink of his day. He has the right accent for his Freudian turn and is the first to hear about Mumy’s fixation on Bardot. Although Kruschen sticks to his psychiatric guns, he’s also pragmatic when mumbling agreements to one-liners delivered by Mumy. He’s great here because he adds to the film with his presence and delivery and doesn’t detract from it. Kruschen was nominated for “The Apartment” and was also in the original “Cape Fear.” He died at 80 in 2002.

Here’s a look at other actors in “Dear Brigitte:”

  • Cindy Carol plays daughter “Pandora ‘Penny’ Leaf” and does a competent job here (although why she lets Stewart go buy her prom dress without her is quite a puzzlement). There’s not much for her resume here and she was also the ersatz “Gidget” knockoff in “Gidget Goes to Rome” and the original “Cape Fear” with Gregory Peck. Carol didn’t work in entertainment after 1966 and only 16 credits on her resume.
  • Teen singing heartthrob Fabian plays Carol’s boyfriend “Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Taylor.” He does a solid job here and is comfortable and smooth in front of the camera. It would have been nice to see his role expanded a bit, but I’m not sure at what expense to other actors. Fabian, who is a primetime Emmy nominee for an informational series “The Wild West” in 1993, was also in the war classic “The Longest Day.”
  • Oscar nominee Ed Wynn plays the narrator (“The Captain”) and does the perfect job as the film segues from one scene to the next. He does essentially the same emotion throughout, so it’s difficult to judge his range as an actor. He earned his nomination for “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1960 and was also in “Mary Poppins” before his death of cancer at 79 the year after the premiere of “Dear Brigitte.”

There you have it. A little-remembered gem from 1960s (along with “The Glass Bottom Boat” from the next year – click here for my review) you can find today.

PS – I don’t usually do pay-per-view films, but amazon.com’s service is easy for those hard-to-find titles you might not otherwise be able to revisit.

BTW – films were not rated in the mid-1960s. An antiquated system of approved or not approved by a censoring board was the soon-to-end standard of the day.

Dear Brigitte” didn’t crack the top 24 films of 1965, according to Wiki, and it brought in $2.2 million. The No. 1 film was “The Sound of Music” with $163.2 million and the No. 2 film was “Dr. Zhivago” with $111.7 million. I have reviewed two other great films from 1965 and both are head-and-shoulders above “Dear Brigitte” (sorry, Miss Bardot!). Both “The Battle of the Bulge” (click here for my review) and “The Bedford Incident” (click here for my review) are military-themed films – the former set in World War II and the latter in the Cold War.

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com and Wiki):

  • Mumy claimed in an interview that “Dear Brigitte” had Bardot’s first kiss in an American movie – and it’s with him!
  • Johns’ accent isn’t home-grown in Great Britain. She is a native of South Africa.
  • Mumy was suggested for the part to filmmakers by his Sunday School teacher.
  • Alice Pearce does a nice turn as an unemployment office clerk. She’s sharp, she’s sassy and has just the right touch for the bit part. You’ll more remember her as the nosy neighbor “Mrs. Kravitz” on TV’s “Bewitched” (she took over after the original actor in the role died of cancer).
  • Finally and directly from com: “This movie was going to be called ERASMUS WITH FRECKLES, after the book on which it was based. But Brigitte Bardot only agreed to appear on the condition that her name did not appear in the credits or any of the promotional materials. The only way the producers could capitalize on Americans’ fascination with Bardot was by changing the title to alert the audience that she was in the movie.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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