One of the loveliest surprises in watching vintage movies is picking something at mostly-random–a poster, or an actor, or a general feeling–and having it turn out to contain something much deeper than your original shallow intentions.
That’s what happened to me and A Date with Judy, a choice I plucked somewhat randomly from the Netflix queue–mostly because I recognized the title from scouring the That’s Entertainment list, and when I saw that it combined the forces of Elizbaeth Taylor and Jane Powell, my subconscious lizard brain took over, and the next thing I knew, I was inserting the disc into my DVD player.
On the surface, A Date with Judy is a cute movie about teenybopper Judy (Powell), overeager to grow up in the way that only teenagers can. Before the big dance, her boyfriend, Oogie (Scotty Beckett) is convinced by his sister Carol (Taylor) to send an envoy to pick her up, instead of going himself–Carol advises that he will look much cooler and more aloof this way. Judy is a romantic though, and this affront signals to her that she needs a man, not a boy. So she gets Stephen (Robert Stack), a local soda jerk, to take her to the dance, attracting envy in the eyes of all the boys and girls–especially Carol.
This sounds like a pretty basic set up for a 1940s teen drama, but I was most surprised by the frankness with which they set up this conflict as a foil for the girls’ paternal issues. Judy’s dad is very by the books, with a perhaps overeager interest in his kids’ business–Carol’s dad, on the other hand, provides well for the kids, but is hardly ever around. They’re both searching for something more in a male figure, and for a time they both seem to think that they will fill this void with beautiful, perfect, hunky Stephen.
I think Carol’s character is especially kind of tragic here… sure, she’s often portrayed as the scheming villainess, but there’s something immediately recognizable and human in her actions, even when they’re a bit over-the-top. I love the scene where she’s invited Stephen over to dinner at her house, and she’s prepared (well–asked the butler to prepare) a very fancy meal. She insists they light the fireplace, even though it’s boiling hot, because it fits her idea of romance. When Stephen brings along Judy on the date, Carol’s actually fairly gracious, even as she continues to plot to make sure she and Stephen end up alone together, but beneath it all, you can tell that she is really just a lonely little girl, looking for some attention and a connection.
Though I know the true origin of the title is the 1940s radio show, I’ll choose to believe that, for this picture, it refers specifically to this date, in which two girls begin to hint at the glint of friendship. I look forward to discovering more vintage movies about female friendships, where every movie doesn’t have to end in a double marriage!