With the memory of the talented and light hearted spirit of the late Debbie Reynolds, today’s post focuses on one of my favorite films of hers. Directed by Joseph Pevney and featuring the iconic song Tammy, this film is about a teenage girl who rescues a young man named Pete from a plane crash with her grandfather in the Mississippi swamp. When she’s forced to leave her home on the riverboat, she goes to stay with Pete’s family for a short time. During her stay she inspires everyone she meets by her curiosity and love of life itself.
Cast includes established talent such as Fay Wray, Sidney Blackmer, Mildred Natwick and Walter Brennan in supporting roles to the younger and rising talent of Debbie Reynolds and Leslie Neilson. Reynolds was 25 years old when she played Tammy, who is supposed to be 17 years old. While Reynolds was a petite lady, it was also the costumes that helped her play a teenage girl.
Bill Thomas designed the costumes. For Tammy, it’s really the little touches that help tell us about her. Above on the far left, Reynolds is wearing denim capris that were the cut and fit of the fifties but it’s the print of the top that made me think of feed sack prints or the fabric that you’d get at a general store. Notice the rope belt as well, I like the way it’s tied on the side suggesting she may not be interested in fashion but isn’t sloppy either. Also her bare feet imply that her shoes are probably limited in pairs and intended for going to town or special occasions only…at least during this season which appears to be spring or summer. Second to the left: The dress and floppy hat for going to Pete’s house looks dated and ages her. But that’s the point because Thomas is showing that Tammy is about to be out of place when she arrives and her background is of modest means where she’s had to make do with what’s there. This dress made me think it could have been a relative’s (her Grandma’s maybe, who she references for strength early in the film) that she cut down for her. Second to the right: Tammy’s transformation as she eases into the lifestyle at Pete’s place allows her to begin to grow comfortable in her own skin, for those remembering how she had never seen her reflection of her whole body. The ponytail replaces the braids for a more modern (of the era) look and the mint green dress, reminds me of the pastels that defined the fifties so well. This is my favorite costume Reynolds had. Far right: No longer using a piece of rope, the black belt defines Reynolds’s waist and the print is now plaid instead of the feed sack type from earlier. This is what she wears when Barbara and her uncle come over to convince Pete to take an advertising job in the city instead of farming, so like the rest of his family she’s well dressed to welcome company.
For Neilson’s character, we see Pete heal from a plane crash to a man ready to make up his own mind on what he wants in life. I noticed his costumes were more monochromatic and have been trying to think of why Thomas chose this. There’s lot of blue shades which made me think of loyalty. Pete has a lot of loyalty to keeping the land sustainable yet he’s also calm (unlike his mom played by Fay Wray) and trustworthy. Far left: This is the costume Peter has on when found in the swamp and leaving to go back home. Thinking of color meanings, beige/tan makes me think of how at this point Grandpa nor Tammy know that Pete lives in a much more elegant lifestyle. He thanks them for helping him and is very gracious and down to earth. Tan shirts also make me think of utility and he was flying a plane after all. Second to left/right are the costumes for Neilson’s character while at home. The left one is when Tammy sees him practicing for the pilgrimage dance which is the first time she’s seeing him in his world literally since she’s looking through the window. His shirt is pale and of a pressed thinner material which looks classic to me but indicates he’s from a family of means. On the right, the monochromatic costume I liked best because of his Keds (to me) serving as casual and functionality versus the slacks and button up reflect how he’s divided by being in a family who has certain expectations that don’t fit with his own. Far right is the blazer and button up Neilson is wearing when his character takes Tammy into town. The blazer appears to be tweed, which is what upper class families of the country wore a lot during the 20th century. (Think of TV shows and films set in the country with wealthy families during the era.) I looked up tweed and learned that the Edwardian culture felt that tweed represented leisure activities for elite people. Still a blue costume, the colors are lighter and it’s during this sequence that Pete lets his guard down and tells Tammy his struggle of figuring out what he wants to do in his life.
I also wanted to touch on the costumes of Peter’s friends which contrasted very well with Tammy and her background. These shots are from when Tammy first arrives at Brentwood Hall, Pete’s home. She watches them practice the dance for the event that allows tourists into their historic home as it was in the early days. There’s a lot of blues and greens with a little bit of pastel pink. The greens made me think about freshness and wealth, the former is what Tammy may think when she sees them and the latter is how like Peter’s family, they are different from her background. We never know how wealthy his friends are but at any rate, the costumes are fun to see the casual attire of the fifties.
Bud Westmore designed the makeup for the film. Far left For Debbie Reynolds, Westmore kept the makeup fresh and minimal, but the hues of the makeup keep it youthful. The brows are filled in with a natural shape and the eyes have black liner kept close the lash line about halfway through in order to create an almond shaped eye, wide and open. The cheeks and lips are the strongest because of their color yet they still work. The blush is a bright pink sweeping from the cheekbones up into the hairline, giving Reynolds a look as though her character a natural flush from hurrying or working outside. (We see Reynolds run even at Pete’s house.) The lip color looks to be a pink coral that in certain shots combined with the lighting (and Technicolor!) appear to be almost neon. On the second left/right You’ll find Barbara (Mala Powers) and Mrs. Brent (Fay Wray) have similar makeup with the bold lipstick and defined eyes in terms of color placement. This could be that their personalities are more bold. For Mrs. Brent, she’s very direct about Tammy being aware that she says things “that can upset people” and for Barbara her clothes are more mature than Tammy’s suggesting she’s a little older than her. Since Barbara’s character is also meant to be interested more in appearances and wealth, we can infer Westmore wanted bolder colors to reflect that. Far right is Pete’s wound for an out of kit special fx. The purple bruise on the forehead indicates it’s a few hours older than the fresh red one on his cheekbone. Maybe the forehead is where he hit his head in the plane and the red one is when he landed on the log in the whirlpool. The crash isn’t shown in the film, but these are my guesses.
Art directors were Bill Newberry and Richard H. Riedel working with set designer was Russell A. Gausman. Here’s the riverboat where Tammy lives and you’ll notice the gas lamps on the wall telling us that Tammy’s home is a little old fashioned. In fact everything about this set is very minimal and country. I like the blue coffee pot on the left and the blue pitcher on the right. Wall art is small and limited but the hooks for coats and sweaters isn’t, indicating that Tammy’s home is about the bare essentials than a decorative space. Maybe because there’s more time spent taking care of the animals and garden outside and enjoying nature than being indoors. The dining table is small and covered in the classic red/white check cloth. Everything has to be compact because it’s a riverboat but I like the tiny flower vase on the table and the open door/curtains that create a sense of friendliness and light. Grandpa (Walter Brennan) has a small role in the film but he’s a kind man who means well and his home reflects that.
For Brentwood Hall, the parlor is a lot like those country manors we see in terms of architecture. Especially the walls and fireplace. Notice how there’s a candlestick on the wall, but unlike Tammy’s, it’s purely decorative since the family has electricity if you notice the film lighting’s placement. The wall art and porcelain figurines are meant to maintain the reminder that Brentwood is historical and full of antiques, indicating the constant awareness that the Brent family has a responsibility to maintain their title. This is something that Mrs. Brent takes very serious for Peter. Notice Mr. Brent on the left, how he’s sitting back more relaxed. Yet the pink walls make me think of being content, approachable and possibly a weakness. Tammy is able to detect early on what makes every member in the family insecure and even tells Ms. Rennie that they talk like they have nothing but really have so much. Also, the few scenes of a meal are often breakfast and held outside on the terrace. That alone contrasts with Tammy’s life where all the meals would be held at that one table. The delicate table cloth and glass/silver once again show wealth and tradition.
The film shows the values of the 1950s, some of which may be dated or sound cheesy. But the message about feeling grateful for all that you have, enjoying the simple pleasures and doing what you really want to in life even if it goes against what others expect of you, retain relevance that make you enjoy this romantic comedy.