Dear Brigitte (1965) - James Stewart and Billy Mumy in a Family Comedy

Dear Classic Movie Fans,

You won't believe the gem of a film I found today. It's Dear Brigitte (1965) with James Stewart as  humanities professor Robert Leaf, who feels unwanted and dated. With the space race and the threat of nuclear war, mathematics and sciences are the stars on campus. Feeling shoved aside, Leaf constantly threatens to resign.

Though there are challenges at Leaf's work, this film is mostly about his problems at home. Leaf's teenaged daughter Pandora (Cindy Carol) is more interested in money than formal education, Leaf's wife Vina (Glynis Johns) is concerned about the strained family budget, and their eight-year son Erasmus (Billy Mumy) is not proficient in anything. During family music time, for instance, their son is the only one who is off key.
One day they discover Erasmus is a prodigy in mathematics. Once this gets out, everyone wants to exploit his genius. His sister bribes him to help with math homework, her boyfriend Kenneth (Fabian) pays him to help with college homework, the scientists at the university test him against their mechanical brain - a computer, and the boy even becomes involved in racetrack bets to raise money for a university scholarship.


Since the film so ardently sets up Leaf's opposition to math and science, you'd think the movie would play up the tension that is now in his own home, caused by his only beloved son.  There is a short scene where the idea of his son becoming a -gasp!- mathematician is discussed with horror, but it's just one scene.

You'd expect the rest of the movie would see Leaf ranting "they might take my job, but they won't take my son," or some other nonsense. However, no further hubbub is made about the father's dislike for the other disciplines.  It's confusing that there is little follow through for this heavily set-up joke.

The film also fails to take advantage of the parallels between father and son - each one's wishes in life are ignored. Which brings us to another point.

Throughout all of this no one asks what interests the boy, except a psychiatrist (Jack Kruschen) who discovers Erasmus' fascination with French movie star Brigitte Bardot. The child, in his isolation, writes his heart out to this international icon every day, hence the title of this film.

The novel from which Dear Brigitte is adapted has a more suitable title - Erasmus with Freckles. This is his story, after all. But, just as in the plot itself, the character is moved aside to accommodate something more interesting. Movie audiences would flock to see a film with the French star's name in the title.

This is not the only pop culture reference in the film. Ed Wynn, our narrator and fourth wall-breaking guide mentions the Academy Award-winning film Tom Jones(1963). He is also the one who pontificates (as so many comedies of this era do) on the on-going battle of the sexes. This film is happily nestled in its time. It's not meant to be a classic. 

All the winking at the camera could have become tiresome, except you have Stewart and Johns doing what they do best - persuading the audience that their characters are rational people, even when they do the craziest things. Their performance is our foundation, so that when even more zany characters show up, the Leafs are reassuringly reasonable by comparison.


Also charming the socks off you, and the main reason to stay with this film, is Mumy's performance as Erasmus. At this point, Mumy had spent about half of his young life in movies and television. This is a professional and it shows (but not in a cloying way). This is one of the most natural young child actors of the era I've seen in a while.

For me, child actors can get by on being... well, children, and fascinate me endlessly just on that basis. But what you have here is a well-sculpted performance of a young man wanting to please his family and also longing for something else. Mumy's work here is pitch perfect.

Dear Brigitte is a charming family film that leaves a few ends loose, but is ultimately a great way to spend ninety minutes. You should check it out.



P.S. Cindy Carol, who plays James Stewart's daughter here, also plays the title character in Gidget Goes to Rome. The first Gidget was Sandra Dee who also plays James Stewart's daughter in Take Her, She's Mine. Is there something in the Gidget contract that says you must play the offspring of Stewart? Now I have to look up the filmography for Deborah Walley (Gidget Goes Hawaiian)...


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