Lord James Broadbent (Rex Harrison) and his wife Sheila (Kay Kendall) are an English couple preparing for the arrival of James’ American daughter from a previous marriage, Jane (Sandra Dee), for an extended visit. There’s no “evil stepmother” to worry about, for Jane. She and Sheila get along great.
But when the Broadbents run into Sheila’s cousin Mabel (Angela Lansbury) at the airport, Mabel plants an idea in Sheila’s mind. Mabel’s own daughter, Clarissa (Diane Clare), will soon take part in the debutante season. Sheila, who never had her own debut due to the war, comes to believe that she absolutely must hold one for Jane.
Very American Jane finds the concept antiquated, but reluctantly goes along with it, with plenty of drama to follow as the London season drags on.
The Reluctant Debutante was directed by Vincente Minnelli. The screenplay was written by William Douglas Horne, from his own play.
This film has such a strong cast. That was part of the reason I tuned in for it, and part of the reason I enjoyed it so much! Angela Lansbury is a delightfully snide gossip. Sandra Dee is the all-American teen, making a great choice for the role of an American girl among unfamiliar Londoners and their traditions. (Side note: Her gorgeous costumes were designed by Helen Rose.) Rex Harrison is hilarious in his role as Sandra Dee’s father.
Even with all of that talent, the show is kind of stolen by Kay Kendall, who I also loved in Les Girls (1957). Her over-dramatics bring a lot of laughs to the film. She and Harrison as a pair are wonderful to watch, spying on Dee together.
More than just a simple tale of an American girl’s London debut, The Reluctant Debutante morphs into a tale of romance and mishap when Jane meets American drummer David Parkson (John Saxon). She’s smitten, but he doesn’t have the best reputation, leading Sheila to push her toward a duller David, David Fenner (Peter Myers).
Dee and Saxon are pretty adorable together, bonding over their dislike of boring debutante balls, as well as over their shared admiration for tribal dance, and their half-American heritage. (He has an American father and Italian mother.) There’s no question who the viewer or Jane roots for in the David-vs.-David battle.
The Reluctant Debutante is a film of simple conflicts, with little depth to its fish-out-of-water story, but it’s an incredibly cute watch. It left me smiling, and I would certainly recommend giving it a look.