Julia Packett (Greer Garson) is a showgirl living in London in the mid-1930s. She struggles to pay the bills, but somehow makes do with the help of a couple of friends, Benji (Reginald Owen) and Louise (Veda Ann Borg).
One day, she receives an invitation to the wedding of her estranged daughter, Susan (Elizabeth Taylor). She explains to her friends that she was married to a wealthy man named William (Walter Pidgeon), but they were young and it didn’t work out. When they separated after the first world war, she had to leave Susan with William’s family, since they had all of the money. She couldn’t exactly bring a child along with her as a traveling showgirl.
Benji, realizing how desperate Julia is to reconnect with her daughter, offers to pay for her trip to France to attend the wedding. William’s mother is none too excited for Julia to pay a visit to the Packett estate, as William and Julia never officially divorced, but there’s little she can do to stop it. The visit is further complicated when Julia meets the charismatic Fred Ghenoccio (Cesar Romero) on the boat to France and takes a part in his acrobatic act.
Jack Conway directs 1948’s Julia Misbehaves, based on the novel The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp.
TCM and Warner Archive both note that this film marked a new type of role for Greer Garson, a lighter film full of “clowning, kissing, kidding, cavorting” (per the Warner Archive Instant synopsis). The film is interesting to watch as a fan of both Garson and Elizabeth Taylor. Both women were at important phases of their careers: Garson filling a different type of role and attempting to change her image, Taylor in the middle of a transitional period between pre-teen starlet and the megastar romantic lead that she would eventually become. This makes the film worthy of a look for fans interested in the career trajectories of these two actresses.
Beyond being a fan of two of the film’s starring ladies, I found plenty more reasons to enjoy Julia Misbehaves. There are a few very amusing scenes of physical comedy, and there is a bit of biting dialogue in one confrontation between Julia and the elder Mrs. Packett. Plenty of mishaps and complications pepper the plot, as well as a few romances, and an interesting mother-daughter dynamic between Taylor and Garson’s characters.
Susan’s total willingness to accept her mother even though they haven’t seen each other in many years is perhaps unbelievably idealistic, but also sweet to see. Julia’s measures to impress her daughter and make up for lost time are somewhat more realistic, adding another dimension to their relationship, which the viewer only understands through seeing both perspectives.
Her casting may have been a calculated move by MGM, but Garson’s performance here is bright and energetic. She delivers a solid portrayal of the role of Julia, proving her ability to extend her talent beyond those more well-known dramatic roles — Random Harvest, Mrs. Miniver, Blossoms in the Dust.
Julia Misbehaves isn’t a film that will win over every single viewer, but it’s a nice change of pace for Greer Garson and a decent romantic comedy, bringing several laughs through clever bits of dialogue and complicated character entanglements. The score: 3.5/5