I’m old enough to remember Brooke Shields as the girl from the Calvin Klein commercials. “Nothing gets between me and my Calvins.” Even before that famous, and somewhat controversial, ad campaign, Shields was causing quite a stir. She had already made it big as a child model and got all sorts of people upset when she appeared naked in Louis Malle’s 1978 film Pretty Baby. She was only 12 at the time. A year later, though, she appeared in a bit lighter fare. This time teaming up with classic old star of vaudeville and radio, George Burns, in 1978’s Just You and Me, Kid.
Burns plays Bill, an old vaudeville song and dance man now retired and living a somewhat uneventful life in Los Angeles. One day, he goes on one of his regular visits to the local supermarket, where all the clerks are entertained by his old stories, only to get a huge surprise as he leaves. In the trunk of his car, he finds a naked teenage girl, covered only by the tarp Bill kept inside. The girl, Kate (Shields), instructs Bill to take her back to his house or she’ll scream. He dutifully obliges. Why is she naked in his trunk? Well, she has just managed to escape from the clutches of a pimp/drug dealer named Demesta (William Russ). She was supposed to deliver some drug money for this scumbag, but she tossed it down the sewer. He, of course, thinks she still has the dough.
Kate is not very forthcoming with Bill about what is going on. In fact, after borrowing some clothes from him she tries to make a run for it by jumping out a window. This results in a sprained ankle, which means she’s pretty much stuck at Bill’s place. This causes trouble for Bill, though as his nosy neighbors (John Schuck & Andrea Howard) start to wonder why the old dude has a hot young chick hanging out at his place. The neighbors alert Bill’s daughter (Elaine Gary), who already thinks pop is losing his mind, which causes even more trouble. Meanwhile, Demesta is trying to track down Kate by questioning various school friends (including Peter Brady himself, Christopher Knight). Eventually he comes to Bill’s place to snatch her but has to contend with the old man’s tricks…literally. He uses his collection of old vaudeville magic props to thwart the slimeball drug dealer.
When I was a kid, I remember seeing George Burns show up regularly on all sorts of TV specials. I also loved him in the three Oh God! movies, which I watched many times when I was young. My favorite, though, was a cassette tape that my grandfather gave me of one of the old Burns & Allen radio shows. It was very funny. The tone which Burns approaches this film is quite similar to what he did on those old radio shows. He always has a quick, snappy response for every situation, which results in a pretty clever and quick-paced script. Bantering back and forth with an exasperated Elaine Gary is much different than what he did with his ditzy wife Grace Allen on the radio, but the result is no less effective. In general the whole movie has a real appreciation for times gone by. There is a fun sequence that involves a regular poker game that Burns plays with a bunch of his old vaudeville buddies. They’re played by Ray Bolger, Carl Ballantine, Leon Ames, and Keye Luke…which is a treat in and of itself. Then these guys have to hide Brooke Shields from the cops…so they use an old levitation trick to suspend her above the cop’s heads. I should also mention that Burl Ives has a small role as an old magician friend who Burns dutifully visits at the hospital each day. It’s a very sweet aspect of the story.
Really the strongest suit of the film, though, is the dynamic between Burns and Shields. I’m not going to say that Shields was a fantastic actress at age 14, but she did have a lot of spunk. Matching her with Burns is a great choice. However, the playful banter we get between the two is a bit limited given the fact that the duo stays trapped in the confines of Bill’s house for much of the film. Getting them out and about a bit I think might’ve created a few more opportunities for comedy.
Just You and Me, Kid was directed by Leonard Stern. Stern was a writer for many classic TV shows including The Honeymooners, Get Smart, and The Phil Silvers Show. He was also one of the original creators of Mad Libs. This film reflects some of the same comedic sensibilities he honed on those early shows. With a strong comedian like George Burns as the anchor it ends up working quite well. In the end, Just You and Me, Kid is playful and fun, if not exactly a laugh riot.