Seventeen-year-old Tammy Tyree (Debbie Reynolds) lives out in the Louisiana Bayou with nobody to talk to except her goat and her grandfather (Walter Brennan), who has taken care of her for years. Although she is getting old enough to take care of herself, she is reluctant to leave the riverboat home she shares with her grandparent because he would be left on his own, with the result that she is desperately lonely. But one day she gets some company when she goes out to the local whirplool so grandpa can salvage whatever might be there, and a dead body turns up - wait, he's not dead, he's unconscious pilot Peter Brent (Leslie Nielsen)...
The movie that gave the world the song most identified with its star Debbie Reynolds, Tammy and the Bachelor, sometimes abbreviated to simply Tammy, was an unassuming family film that struck big with the hearts of the cinemagoing public, thanks to a sweet and affecting performance at its centre. The song Tammy helped a lot too, being a smash hit around the world, although while it was at the number one position for ages in the United States, in Britain it was kept off that slot by Paul Anka's pop behemoth Diana holding that placing for about a billion weeks - come off it, Paul, you could at least have relinquished one week to allow Deb to hit the top spot.
Anyway, this film was one of many such romances of the fifties and early sixties where a lead character trembling on the brink of womanhood falls in love with an older man - though not that much older, rest assured - and does her level best to win him over without being pushy or unladylike. The script by Oscar Brodney, adapting a novel of the day, ensures we never look down on Tammy and think that she's an idiot even if she does lack some of the familiarity with the world outside her bayou home. She's even as frank as the censor would allow about sexuality, admitting to Peter that she did undress him when they rescued him from the whirpool, but she kept her eyes shut most of the time.
Peter is grateful to Tammy for saving him, so when grandpa gets hauled off to jail for moonshining (and him a preacher as well) she is forced to find somewhere else to live, and hits upon visiting Peter who it turns out has a great big mansion where he resides with his family, including parents Sidney Blackmer (twinkly and indulgent) and Fay Wray (frosty and disapproving) and eccentric would-be artist aunt Mildred Natwick, who guides Tammy along her path to romantic realisation with Peter. Naturally, he sees the girl as a daffy kid who doesn't measure up to his more sophisticated girlfriend Barbara (Mala Powers), but we percieve Tammy's better qualities even if she has trouble articulating them.
What makes this charming and not as corny as it sounds is that the film takes its protagonist's concerns as seriously as she does, so while we can see her objectively as a young woman in the flush of first love, we can also sympathise with her lack of self-confidence when she makes her way through an environment that she is far less certain of than she was in her riverboat with just the goat to share her feelings with. If you only know Nielsen from either his seventies phase of bad guys in low budget movies and TV, or more likely from his later period comedy, you'll be surprised to see how well he fits the role of the hunky leading man, and while it's not his best performance and won't eclipse his contemporaneous work in Forbidden Planet, he is very dashing here. But it's really Reynolds' movie, as she is by turns perky and soulful, surely a role model to a generation back then, not to mention that rendition of the theme song that the proceedings rightly stop for halfway through. Music by Frank Skinner.