It is a loose (very loose) movie musical adaptation of Jean Webster's oft-filmed 1912 novel Daddy-Long-Legs. The basic plot of a wealthy man named Jervis Pendleton secretly sponsoring the education of an orphan girl and them falling in love without her knowing he's her sponsor is the same. Everything else is different.
Astaire plays Pendleton while Caron plays Julie, the orphan girl. Also in the cast are Thelma Ritter, Terry Moore, and Fred Clark.
The film contains examples of:
- Adaptation Name Change: "Judy" of the novel is now "Julie".
- Adaptational Nationality: Julie is played by the very French Leslie Caron.
- The Alleged Car: The orphanage kindly lends Jervis a truck to go for help after his party's car breaks down. The American army left it after the war. No, not that war. The one before that. It literally falls to pieces as they come to a stop outside their destination.
- Beleaguered Assistant: Pendleton's assistant Griggs puts up with his boss playing the drums while he tries to get instructions about buying stock and that's the least of it.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Griggs and secretary Miss Pritchard spend the entire movie bickering with and nagging each other. When Griggs notes that if hed offered her a drink 25 years ago shed have slapped him she asks how he knows. He never asked. The film ends with them going off to have a drink.
- Book Ends: The first scene is of a tour group going through the Pendleton gallery and the guide scolding a women for breaking off. The last scene is of a tour group going through the Pendleton gallery and the guide scolding Julie for breaking off, mistaking her for a visitor to the gallery instead of the owner.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Pendleton isn't unkind, but it was so little trouble for him to send Julie to college that he just forgets about her until he's reminded by receiving her letters. His assistant Griggs is the one who makes sure she has somewhere to go on school breaks and gets Christmas presents.
- Dance of Romance: It's a Fred Astaire movie. What else would you expect?
- Dream Ballet: Several. Both Astaire and Caron get ample chances to show off. The one Julie has after looking through newspaper clipping about Jervis is especially notable for its total lack of plot relevance.
- Enormous Engagement Ring: Jervis picks out a ring with a stone the size of a decently large walnut. He describes it as "kind of cute".
- Establishing Character Moment: The opening scene is a guide giving a tour of the Pendleton Gallery, which contains portraits of Pendletons of the past. A Whistler of his grandfather, a Sargent of his father, and a cheerful cubist portrait of himself. Paired with the swing music blasting from his office when the door is opened it gives you a pretty accurate idea of him before we see him on-screen.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: Jervis makes sure Julie is dressed very, very well when he sends her to college. To the point where her wealthy roommates beg to be allowed to borrow something from her trunkfuls of dresses.
- I Never Got Any Letters: Not maliciously. Julie sent dozens to hundreds of letter that Jervis didn't read until she was nearly finished with college. His assistant Griggs assumed that he didn't need to be bothered. It isn't until his secretary guilts Griggs about Julie never being answered that Jervis is given the (at this point several inches thick) file of letters.
- MayDecember Romance: Fred Astaire was 55 when filming and his character about the same age. Leslie Caron was 24 playing a girl between 18 and 22.
- Not What It Looks Like: Truly! Jervis originally thought to adopt Julie. When it's pointed out to him the potential PR problems of "adopting" a beautiful 18 year old he agrees to just pay for her education and living expenses. It becomes awkward when he later really does fall in love with her.
- Orphanage of Love: The orphanage Julie grows up in doesn't have enough money but everyone clearly loves the children and takes as good care of them as they can.
- Sassy Secretary: Miss Pritchard qualified for her pension last month and has a lot of things shes been meaning to say.
- Setting Update: Instead of the early 1910s of the novel the film is set in the early 1950s.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Leslie Caron is Leslie Caron, but she's shown wearing plain, serviceable clothing until she arrives at college and gets a new wardrobe of designer outfits.
- Third-Act Misunderstanding: Jervis avoids Julie under the impression that she'll soon be engaged to Jimmy, her roommates brother. He gives Jimmy a job in Bolivia, then another job in a lab New York, then raises his salary twice despite his nearly blowing up the lab. Which turns out to be all for the best because Jimmy does get engaged soon - to Linda, Jervis's niece and Julia's third roommate. When Jerivs finds out he promises to pay for the biggest wedding New York City has ever seen.
- Uriah Gambit: Not really, but called this by name. When a boy interested in Julie has a job in South Africa falls though Jervis is eager to give him a job in the Pendleton tin mines in Bolivia. When his friend Alex find out he cites the story accusingly.
- Voiceover Letter: Several times, for Julie's letters.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Jervis's friend Alex puts up with a lot from him. But when he thinks that Pendleton has exploited Julie's naiveté and gratitude to start a relationship he's furious. When Jervis protests that she doesn't know he's her sponsor he points out that she knows he's a millionaire and 30 years older and that's enough to make it an unacceptably Unequal Pairing. Oddly, he's the only character other than Jervis himself to see anything questionable about the relationship.