Judge John Floyd misses the good old days, when a riverboat girl with no primary education could go to college and land a job in a major metropolitan hospital!
"Tammy's in love!"
Here we go again with another type of film Hollywood has apparently forgotten how to make.
Facts of the Case
A wise-beyond-her-years young woman learns about love when she leaves her simple life on a shanty boat to mix with rich kids, college students, and doctors.
If you've ever seen one of those insipid Disney Channel movies in which an "ordinary" girl (usually played by an almost-legal hottie like Amanda Bynes or Hilary Duff) is whisked from her mundane life into a fairy tale romance by a seemingly perfect boy, you already have a fair idea of the basic structure of the Tammy films. The difference, however, is that modern-day adolescent fantasies usually substitute irony for innocence and "hip" self-indulgence for charm, resulting in a sticky concoction that is more likely to cause heartburn than be heartwarming. At the risk of repeating the same song I've already sung in reviews of beach movies and teen sex comedies, Tammy and the Bachelor, Tammy Tell Me True, and Tammy and the Doctor are fun, frothy reminders of a time when Hollywood was content to let the coming-of-age process play out at a relatively leisurely, natural pace.
The first film in the trilogy (directed by Joseph Pevney) is the best, with Debbie Reynolds as the titular teen and a dashing Leslie Nielsen as Pete Brent, the object of her infatuation. A few unlikely plot contrivances involving a plane crash and bootleg liquor bring the two together under the roof of his family's palatial estate, where Tammy's homespun charm and knack for reading people help her overcome her inherent lack of social graces. Soon, she has warmed the cold heart of the lady of the house (Fay Wray, King Kong), convinced a flaky aunt (Mildred Natwick, Barefoot in the Park) to follow her Bohemian dreams, and won Pete away from an upwardly mobile socialite (Mala Powers) who is unwilling to give up her big city ambitions to indulge his agricultural passions. Though not entirely convincing as a backward country girl, Reynolds is as irresistible as she is lovely here. In fact, the movie's biggest weakness is neither its improbable set-up nor its overly tidy finish, but rather the notion that Nielsen's character could spend more than 10 minutes with Tambrey "Tammy" Tyree and not be head-over-heels in love with her. Still, she is 17, and Pete is an honorable guy. In any case, Tammy and the Bachelor is light, sweet romantic fare that perfectly showcases its female lead.
Similarly, Tammy Tell Me True flies almost entirely on the strength of Sandra Dee's winning performance. Dee plays Tammy with more of a Cajun flare than Reynolds, and prominently displays that paradoxical combination of girl-next-door wholesomeness and burgeoning sex appeal that made her a star in Gidget. The rather ridiculous plot sees our riverboat queen go off to college to become more sophisticated, in hopes of impressing Pete when—and if—he ever returns from agricultural school. Along the way, she saves a struggling marriage, rescues lonely old Mrs. Call (Beulah Bondi, Make Way for Tomorrow) from her gold-digging niece (Julia Meade), and (once she realizes that Pete, who has never even written her a letter in his absence, is not her true love) falls for a handsome speech professor (John Gavin, Psycho). It all finishes up in a ludicrous courtroom scene in which our heroine must make the case for Mrs. Call's mental competence, but by that time the viewer will already be too enamored with the delightful Miss Dee to care about logic or credibility. Director Harry Keller (who also helmed the third entry) wisely relies on his star's beauty and charisma to carry the day.
In Tammy and the Doctor, Dee overdoes the down-home dialect to the point where, at times, it's difficult to make out what she's saying. Still, she delivers a feisty, thoroughly charming performance that helps the film overcome its numerous shortcomings. Accompanying Mrs. Call to a Los Angeles hospital for some emergency heart surgery, Tammy takes a part-time job as a nurse's aid and becomes romantically involved with a handsome intern, Doctor Cheswick (Peter Fonda). Predictably, our Cajun cutie has her fair share of fish-out-of-water mishaps before winning over the catty nursing staff, playing matchmaker for a pair of lovelorn couples, and convincing Cheswick that there's more to life than being a successful "leech" (Tammy's backwater term for "doctor"). Many of the gags here are repeated from the two previous films, the drama gets rather maudlin at times, and no one who has seen the other entries in the series will be surprised at how it all turns out. Though she still plays Tammy as if she's in the latter stages of puberty, Dee has matured into a very glamorous woman here, and it's only her earnest acting that saves the entire exercise from being impossible to believe. Even if you're not a fan of Sandra Dee, though, it's hard not to like a film that features Adam West as a lecherous medical man, or stars a pre-Easy Rider Fonda and includes a joke about "smoking weed."
There are no extras here, but the presentation is otherwise excellent. The prints look great (with Tammy and the Bachelor presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and the sequels in 1.85.1), and the audio (though Mono) is crisp and clear. All three films include an original theatrical trailer and English and French subtitles.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course, it's easy to blame Hollywood for the poor quality of today's teen romance movies. The truth is, however, that our society is simply not as innocent as it once believed itself to be, and many viewers over the age of 13 will find the Tammy series too sanitized and fluffy for their modern sensibilities. The plots are neither intricate nor particularly well-crafted, to be sure. Some audience members may even find Tammy's backwoods dialect and old-fashioned worldview more offensive than charming. Even if you love the films, you'll be ready to snap the discs in half after about the third day of walking around with the terminally catchy "Tammy's in Love" song (a variation of which appears in all three movies) stuck in your head.
Universal's Tammy and the Bachelor, Tammy Tell Me True, and Tammy and the Doctor two-disc triple feature is an enjoyable and diverting nostalgia trip for young romantics and Debbie Reynolds/Sandra Dee fans alike. Just don't come expecting too much.
Whatever their flaws, these films are sweet little love stories that will
please both the Gidget set and their
pre-teen daughters. Not guilty.
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