There’s a singular pleasure to watching an older movie and discovering there’s an actor you thought you knew–an actor you had pretty easily categorized as a Dad figure in your mind, someone who was surely born already 40 years old wearing slacks–was actually quite the dish at 23. I had this happy experience this weekend watching The Reluctant Debutante, which was billed as a musical, but really only had a few dance ball scenes, and nothing really as the focus. But no matter, because the prize here is Nancy’s dad himself: John Saxon, at 23.
Now, part of my rabid reaction certainly comes from the role. It’s one of those great classic characters that only exists in fiction: the misunderstood bad boy with a heart of gold. Your parents don’t like him, so he’s appealing, but he also won’t kiss you unless you give the okay first. He’s a rebellious drummer in a band, not like all those other squares–oh, but he’s also an incredibly wealthy duke so you’ll be taken care of the rest of your life. Basically, he’s catnip, a bit of a Mary Sue, but fun to watch.
Anyway, I know it’s not breaking news that at one point a human being was a younger human being, but I love it with Saxon in particular, because he’s such a recognizable character actor, and in only a few years from this picture, he morphs very quickly into his signature Dad look. So what started out as a lark–Oh, I know this actor as an adult, I wonder how goofy he’ll look as a kid–turned out to be a lesson on career reinvigoration and Hollywood’s dependence on type. There’s a huge gap actors have to cross between “love interest” and “wise dad,” and I’m certainly glad Saxon made that transition successfully.