Jane Powell and Ricardo Montalban spend... Two Weeks with Love (1950)

Today I celebrate Debbie Reynolds's day as part of the continuing Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, although her day isn't until tomorrow starting at 6 am. My first entry on Fred Astaire can be found here, and the list of other entries are here at Journeys in Classic Film.

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Although finally reviewing Singin' in the Rain was mighty tempting, I wanted to do something unique for the incomparable Ms. Reynolds. So, taking a look at her filmography, I decided to shed some light on one of Debbie's first major films, the charming Two Weeks with Love. Although Jane Powell is the real star here, I think you'll soon find out why I picked this for a post celebrating Debbie. We go back to the early 1900's...


Music conductor Horatio Robinson (Louis Calhern) is leading his orchestra at a quaint bandstand; he's soon joined by his oldest daughter, Patti (Jane Powell), whose vocal chops are quite mature for the petite 17-year-old. Once Patti finishes her song, she hurries across the street to the Robinson household, which is in disarray as the family rushes to make it to their train on time. Every year they spend two weeks in the Catskills, a vacation that everyone enjoys... except this year, Patti dreads it. She's tired of being a child -- she wants to date boys and wear long skirts, dammit! But her mother (Ann Harding) tells her to wait one more year, an excruciatingly long time for Patti. In the meantime, she'll just have to keep slyly lengthening her skirts.

Arriving at the Catskills, the Robinsons are warmly greeted at their regular hotel, run by Mr. Finlay (Clinton Sundberg, of course!) and his son Billy (Carleton Carpenter). Billy is particularly thrilled to see the family because he's got a huge crush on Patti, a fact that annoys but doesn't deter Patti's younger sister Melba (Reynolds). Despite him being super adorable, Patti turns away Billy's advances because he's still not in long pants, therefore he's not mature enough for her, at least in her
mind. The girls are unpacking in their room when Patti's old friend Valerie (Phyllis Kirk) comes in. Valerie is basically what Patti wants to be, a fact that Valerie recognizes and loves rubbing in her face by bragging how she just finished a big play with John Barrymore and then asking Patti to fasten her corset, a sign of womanhood that Patti hasn't reached yet. (So many clothing signals!) I love this scene because Debbie Reynolds is just so perfect as Melba, a character who could
easily come off as annoying but really just makes you laugh. Patti and Valerie keep trying to get her out of the room by telling her to go ask Mr. Finlay questions about dinner and whatnot, but Melba already knows the answers and continues to put her two cents into their conversation. She shows herself to be a great little sister too: when Valerie snidely remarks that Patti doesn't have to worry about the lack of attractive men in the hotel because she's too young,
Melba responds with "If you ask me, some people are just afraid of competition!" Never change, Melba, never change. This conversation is interrupted, though, by the sound of a car horn outside the window. The three girls look and find that wonderful Mexican import Ricardo Montalban, playing Demi Armendez. Patti and Valerie are instantly intrigued, as is every other girl in the place, all of whom stare at Demi and his aunt when they come into the dining room at
suppertime. Asking his aunt what they're all gazing at, she drolly replies "My new dress" when it's clearly the handsome man in the brightly striped jacket. Seated near the Robinsons' table, Demi happens to catch Patti's eye and he flashes a gorgeous smile; she nervously takes a big sip of her milk and smiles back. Did I mention she does it with a big milk mustache? Melba is only too glad to point it out to her sister, who is justifiably humiliated. What could be worse? Well, how about getting up to go to your room to hide, only to drop your fan and then bump your head with your crush's and then accidentally hit a tray of tapioca that spills all over the guy whose head you just knocked? Yeah, that would be worse.

Patti is able to relax later that night by performing "The Oceana Roll" with the rest of the hotel's "kids," a fun number that will probably be in my head for the next few years. However, Demi appears to return Patti's fan to her and she becomes jittery all over again. She apologizes for pouring his tapioca dessert on him, but he confides that he hates tapioca and would much rather have an ice cream soda. (Am I the only one who drools every time one of these is mentioned/shown in an old film?) Patti tries to give him directions to the nearest ice cream parlor, but her nerves have her all mixed up so Demi invites her to come along with him. Eavesdropping like the villain she's shaping up to be, Valerie pops up and basically invites herself too. Before they can leave the porch, though, Mrs. Robinson tells Patti it's time for bed, effectively killing the mood. Although it breaks Patti's heart to see Demi go off with Valerie, her father reminds her that Demi's much older than her and she has plenty of time to find someone. Something tells me the film won't adhere to that...

Anyway, the next day everyone goes to the makeshift beach, complete with sand imported from Atlantic City. Patti is mortified to be wearing her potato sack-like swimsuit, so much so that when Demi and Valerie show up, she has Melba and her two little brothers bury her in sand and put a bucket over her head. It successfully keeps her hidden, but when Billy comes looking for her, Melba sees an opportunity to spend time with him without her sister so she leaves Patti buried (ha!). Luckily their father finds her and he sympathizes with Patti's plight, yet he also believes that Mrs. Robinson knows what is best for their girls. Patti can get a new swimsuit, but it definitely won't be like Valerie's (see end of post).

Are you ready for the cutest number you've ever seen in your life? Surrounded by all the kids, Melba sings this novelty song about two monkeys who fall in love and get married. Billy soon joins in and the pair are just marvelous to watch. This routine became one of Debbie Reynolds's most famous, and her and Carpenter's rendition made the song a huge hit again. It also inspired a spike in Reynolds's fan mail, which certainly made the top brass at MGM sit up and decide to give the young actress bigger parts. Just two years later, Debbie was cast in Singin' in the Rain against Gene Kelly's initial wishes. But we're getting off track.

Remembering Demi's promise to take her out some other time, Patti waits around on the porch, hoping he'll show up. Valerie does instead, and knowing that Demi has a certain affinity for Patti, she lies and tells the naive young woman that Demi is looking for a Theda Bara type, a mysterious and world-weary woman -- basically, the complete opposite of Patti. Although she's hesitant that this is what Demi is really looking for, the dope tries it anyway and
actually endears herself to Demi because he immediately sees through her act. He suggests they go on a canoe ride, but for the umpteenth time Valerie snakes her way between them and Patti goes to the lake by herself. Everyone is there, either riding with friends or with a sweetheart, except for Patti who forlornly sings "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" to thin air. She then imagines that Demi is there with her, declaring his love and coming in for a kiss before recoiling in horror when he realizes that
Patti isn't wearing a corset (remember: it's supposedly a sure sign she isn't truly a woman). Shaken by her imagination, Patti accidentally falls into the lake and Demi jumps in after her, believing that she can't swim. Terrified that he'll notice she's not wearing a corset for real this time, Patti slips away from him and gets to the shore, unaware that Demi still followed her to be sure that she was alright. He chases her into a horse stable and wants to know why she lied about being able to swim. She admits that Valerie told her that men don't like girls who are independent, which isn't true in Demi's case. Afraid that she'll get a cold, Demi puts a horse blanket on Patti and takes her back to the hotel. In a hilarious moment, Mr. Robinson catches the twosome trying to sneak back in and loudly demands to know why they're getting back so late. They try to explain, but Patti's father misconstrues everything and it just keeps getting worse, eventually waking up the whole floor.

The next night, the hotel is holding a dance, which Patti refuses to go to so she can't run into Demi. Dismayed to hear she's not going, Billy pleads with her to change her mind -- after all, he found some long pants to borrow for the occasion! Patti gives in, but only if Billy promises to dance every single dance with her. When he shows up for their date, however, the borrowed pants prove too big for him and he leaves Patti for a minute to go find suspenders. His father is horrified to see him in long pants, a wardrobe choice he forbade Billy to make until he was a year older; he orders his son to take the pants off and go to his room, prompting Billy to drop the trousers right in front of two older ladies. Mr. Finlay is shocked: "Billy, how dare you! You ought to be ashamed!" Watching the whole exchange while eating a huge slice of watermelon, Melba replies "What for?! His legs are beautiful!" This may or may not have made me laugh for a good 30 seconds.

Unaware of what happened to Billy, Patti watches Demi and Valerie dance as she waits. When Demi passes Valerie off to some other poor soul and heads outside, Patti hides under a canoe. (This girl is always hiding!) Because she sucks at keeping all her limbs inside the canoe, Demi spots her and invites her to dance. She reluctantly says yes, but they must keep a lot of space in between them. They charmingly dance alone, slowly getting closer and closer. Once the song is over, though, they join the
rest of the guests in a lively polka. Noticing Demi's attentions to Patti, Valerie spreads it among the young male guests that Patti doesn't wear a corset. It leads to some rather creepy interactions between Patti and some teenage boys, I have to admit. Patti overhears Valerie telling Demi the news and she's so embarrassed that she runs back to her room. Hoping to cheer his daughter up, Mr. Robinson goes to town the next day to buy a corset. Unfortunately, he's absolutely clueless about the undergarment, buying Patti a surgical corset instead.

Meanwhile at the hotel, Patti daydreams while she looks at an advertisement for La Belle Mode corsets. Of course, being a daydream, it's quite silly. Patti walks down the stairs in her frilly corset and hat, complete with gloves and a parasol. Everyone stares in wonder at her, especially Demi, who ignores Valerie in favor of gazing at Patti. Suddenly everyone is decked out in fairytale-like finery. Billy and a very dashing Demi duel with swords over Patti, with Demi being the victor. He and Patti do a dance with plenty of athletic lifts and they sing the final chorus of "My Hero" together, although Ricardo Montalban's voice suddenly becomes very deep and operatic, telling me that although he had a decent singing voice, it just wasn't cutting it for this portion of the film. It kind of makes the dream sequence funnier, actually. Once Patti's dream ends, her father arrives with her very own corset. Patti is thrilled and can't wait to wear that night at the hotel's festivities, which include a vaudeville show starring some of the guests.

By the way, whoever was the genius who decided to put Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter together deserved a freaking medal -- I love this pairing so much, watching them is like watching a basket of puppies. Watch that video of them performing "Row Row Row" and tell me it isn't enough to make your heart burst. Backstage, Valerie finds out that Patti is slated to sing a song before she and Demi perform the main feature. Valerie is furious and demands that Patti be kicked out of the line-up, making Patti finally realize that the woman really isn't her friend. To help out his lady love, Billy hides Valerie's shoes, which is kind of a big deal since she and Demi are expected to do a dance. Valerie knows it was Billy who committed the theft, but when he tries to retrieve the shoes from their hiding spot, he can't find them.

Knowing that she secretly watched all the rehearsals, Billy asks Patti to take Valerie's place and it doesn't take much for her to hurriedly put on her new corset and her mother's gorgeous black dress. Demi is thrilled when he sees her, and seeing the two of them together makes Billy realize that he hasn't got a chance. Enter Melba wearing Valerie's dancing shoes, revealing that she's the second person who stole them. Impressed, Billy asks Melba what she's doing after the show and the
whole world cheers. Onstage, Patti and Demi perform a great tango, which can be seen here. When it comes to the final dip, though, Patti's surgical corset locks up and she's stuck. Her family runs backstage and carry her to her dressing room, where Mrs. Robinson kicks everyone out so she can loosen the corset to relieve the poor girl. Finally understanding that her daughter is no longer a child, Mrs. Robinson gives Patti the black dress and lets her go on her first date with Demi. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson watch Patti and Demi go off, wistfully remembering when their daughter was still little.


Being the big musical lover I am, lately I've been discovering more and more that don't get the same recognition as the usual suspects (An American in Paris, Calamity Jane, The Band Wagon...). I found a fantastic boxed set of MGM musicals, which include great examples of works from Jane Powell, Eleanor Powell, Ann Sothern, and Debbie Reynolds, just to name a few. Part of the set is Two Weeks with Love and it was a wonderful find. Also included on the disc is Jane Powell's Private Screenings episode with Robert Osborne, a good way to spend a spare hour. During the interview, Powell actually said that Two Weeks with Love is her favorite film of hers -- she loved dancing with Ricardo Montalban, the period costumes were great, and she became good friends with Debbie Reynolds. The film was one of many that put Powell in the role of the girl next door, and she was considered MGM's attempt to duplicate the success of Deanna Durbin, a young actress the studio had let go of in favor of Judy Garland only to see her practically support Universal Studios. I'd say they did pretty good with Judy, though. They did well with Powell too, but soon she grew tired of playing the same role, much like Durbin who retired from Hollywood at the age of 28 in 1949. Powell didn't quit until she was practically forced to in the late 1950's when musicals went out of style and new studio head Dore Schary wanted to focus on more "serious" fare. Instead of films, Powell focused on TV and stage work; she's still fairly active to this day.

But enough about Jane. Can we talk about who stole this film for me? I bet you can't guess... That's right, it's Debbie and Carleton. These two goofballs are a complete delight to watch as they make funny faces, joyously dance, and harmonize beautifully. I could seriously watch a whole film about Melba and Billy -- quick, someone go back in time and make this happen! Reynolds and Carpenter had actually been paired before in another 1950 musical, Three Little Words with Fred Astaire and Red Skelton as songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Reynolds was tapped to play baby-voiced Helen Kane, who was the original singer of "I Wanna Be Loved By You." Although she was a great mimic, Reynolds was dubbed by the real Helen Kane as she unsuccessfully tries to flirt with Carpenter. It's a really funny sequence, one that you can watch here. This is Debbie Reynolds's day, after all! Audiences loved the number and MGM gave her the ripe supporting role in Two Weeks with Love.

Besides the magic of Reynolds and Carpenter, another surprise for me was Ricardo Montalban's character. Multiple times the film recognizes the age gap between Powell and Montalban -- in fact, it's one of the main plot points. This could come off as rather sleazy, but I think Montalban did a great job of coming across as gentle and sincere without stepping into creepy territory. Demi is a complete gentleman who is amused by Patti, but doesn't seem to really consider her as a romantic interest until he actually spends time with her. Or maybe I'm just looking at it with rose-colored glasses because I'm a huge Ricardo fan. I'm not a Star Trek person, but it's got to be weird for those fans to find out that Khan was a singing, dancing leading man for glamorous musical stars like Esther Williams and Powell.

Anyway, although Montalban was proud to be Mexican, MGM constantly cast him as other Hispanic nationalities, be it Cuban like in Two Weeks with Love or just vaguely South American like in Neptune's Daughter. Montalban hated that he wasn't allowed to play his real nationality, so it always makes me feel a little sad every time I see him cast as anything other than a Mexican. On a happier note, Montalban had an incredible career, one I encourage you to read about here.

Two Weeks with Love is great fun, and something the whole family would enjoy. The bittersweet ending of Mr. and Mrs. Robinson realizing their daughter is all grown-up surprisingly brought a tear to my eye, and it has many moments that I think a lot of families will recognize, such as the smart-aleck little sister (that would be me). Louis Calhern and Ann Harding are marvelous as the parents -- oh hell, the whole cast is pretty great. The period songs are cute and the Helen Rose/Walter Plunkett costumes are delectable. There's nothing more to say other than "See it!"





Would you rather have this swimsuit...

or this? Yeah, it's not hard to sympathize with Patti on this one.



I kind of sort of really want Billy's robe.


Patti is surprised when Demi kisses her on the cheek at the end of their dance.


A funny moment where Mr. Robinson is forced to sleep with the boys, only to have multiple problems, the first being their arms in his face.




Patti is just a little excited to receive a corset. Just a little.






With love,
Michaela

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