Tuesday, December 23, 2014

17 Will Get You 20

Film: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I make no secret of my love of Cary Grant. I don’t feel a need to, really. There’s no shame in enjoying the work of one of the great actors of his era. The thing I like the most about Grant is not that he could pull off an action role or do a serious scene, but that he had nearly perfect comic timing. Given good material, Grant was capable of comedic genius. I’ll say the same thing about Myrna Loy, who I think was underrated in general and that it’s close to criminal that she never got an Oscar nomination. So what a joy to discover that The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer features both of these actors. Without knowing it, I was looking forward to this.

We’re given a very unusual meet-cute for our two principle characters. Judge Margaret Turner (Myrna Loy) presides over a case of a small melee evidently caused by the presence of a man named Richard Nugent (Cary Grant). It seems that Nugent, an acclaimed artist, was less a participant in the altercation and more the catalyst, but he has a reputation. Specifically, Nugent has come up on the radar of assistant district attorney Tommy Chamberlain (Rudy Vallee). Nugent is let off, but sternly warned by Judge Turner that she does not want to see him in her court again.

Later that same day, Richard gives a talk about art at a local high school. As it happens, in the audience is Susan Turner (Shirley Temple), a 17-year-old high school student given to sudden fads and deep infatuations. As it happens, thanks to the lecture she becomes deeply interested in art and completely infatuated with Richard Nugent. She manages to finagle an interview with him by claiming to work on the school paper. He does his best to get out of it, eventually lying to her about his past and promising that she could model for him.

Since this is a comedy, we’re going to get some comedic events. In this case, it means that Susan dresses up and sneaks into Richard’s apartment and waits for him. Judge Turner and Tommy Chamberlain (who is making a romantic play for the judge) discover Susan is missing and deduce where she is and show up just as Richard discovers the romantically-inclined intruder in his apartment. We don’t see this happen. We just get the aftermath, which evidently involved Richard punching the assistant DA in the face and thus spending a night in jail. Everything is sorted out by Dr. Matt Beemish (Ray Collins), the court psychologist and uncle of both Margaret and Susan Turner. However, not wanting Richard Nugent to get off completely, they determine that he should “date” Susan until she gets over her infatuation with him. And thus we have the next two-thirds of the movie.

I’m not going to go into that much detail because the plot writes itself. In fact, even if you’ve never seen this, you can guess where it’s going to go. Susan will be completely infatuated with Richard (she calls him “Dickie,” which is a riot), he’ll be put into a series of embarrassing situations, and eventually, he’ll fall for Judge Turner and she’ll fall for him. We’ll need some sort of way to get them together at the end after the inevitable falling out, and that’s precisely what happens in the end. We know where this is going. The joy is the getting there.

The biggest issue with The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer isn’t really a problem at all. It’s completely silly from start to finish. Then again, it’s supposed to be. This isn’t a film that wants to be taken seriously for a second. The situation is ridiculous and is designed to put poor Richard Nugent into a series of mortifying situations, mine those situations for as much comedy as possible, and move onto the next plot point. That’s precisely what happens. It builds and builds, ridiculousness on top of ridiculousness until the film can’t sustain it and it finds a convenient way to end.

Grant, of course, is great. A lot of the reason this film works at all is because of the comic timing of Cary Grant, who does a surprised reaction shot better than just about anyone in Hollywood history. It’s also a great role for Myrna Loy, who was a wonderful comic actress, and completely charming here. The biggest requirement for this film to work, though, is a believable Susan (believable as possible, given the plot). Shirley Temple makes the film work. She needs to be precocious and silly at the same time and she makes it work.

This is a harmless film. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The fact that it’s completely unrealistic doesn’t matter. It’s not supposed to be realistic. It’s supposed to be entertaining and put a smile on the face of the audience. It does. That’s good enough.

Why to watch The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer: The best cast of its year.
Why not to watch: Ultimately, it’s pretty silly.


  1. I agree that this is about as unrealistic as you can get, but like you said that is what allows them to put people in outrageous situations and us to laugh at them trying to get out of them. (Imagine a judge ordering a man to date her 17 year old sister today.)

    I saw this many years ago and didn't even realize that was Shirley Temple until some time afterwards. She was just a random pretty actress to me. Other than short clips I had never even seen her in any movie, but I had certainly heard of her. I don't think I knew that she even had any roles other than being a cute little child. Since then I've seen her as a teenager/young woman in a few other films, too. I still don't think I've seen her in a full movie in her most iconic incarnation as the cute little girl in ringlets.

    1. I watched "The Little Princess" recently and enjoyed it immensely. She was a great entertainer. I've seen very few of her movies and she's not likely to ever be one of my favorites (like Bette Davis or Louise Brooks) but I enjoy her films when I do come across them.

      In "The Little Princess," she performs a number with Arthur Treacher where she takes on a hilariously atrocious Cockney accent. Fun fun fun!

    2. Yeah, it's a silly movie. And I don't really care at all. This is about as good as a screwball comedy gets, and most of that is the fantastic cast all the way around.

      I wish Myrna Loy got more love. She was always great.

    3. Love love love Myrna Loy! Have you seen her early movies, where she played exotic (and usually evil) women? Like The Squall, where she's a gypsy seductress? Or Thirteen Women (with Irene Dunne) where she plays a Eurasian woman killing off a group of girls she knew in college? Most famous of all is The Mask of Fu Manchu where she was the sadistic Fah Lo Suee.

      She was so good at it! But you can hardly blame her for wanting to get past those kinds of roles.

      She also one line of dialogue in The Jazz Singer!

    4. I mostly know her from the Thin Man series of films, where she demonstrated her perfect comic timing. I think she's adorable in those movies, and I admit, it colors my view of her in the positive in everything else.

      For what it's worth, I tend to feel the same way about William Powell for the same reasons.

    5. Here's a two-minute clip from "The Squall."

  2. I saw this a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. It's too bad Shirley Temple didn't have more of a career as an adult because she's really good in this. I especially love the part where Cary Grant is dressing like a teenage and they do that "You remind me of a man" routine.

    Yesterday I saw an early Cary Grant movie that I've never heard much about. "Sylvia Scarlett." I was really glad I watched because it was CRA-ZEE in that mid-1930s Hollywood way that I love so much. Also, it's the earliest Cary Grant movie I've seen where he actually has a pretty good Cary Grant-type role. (He also has an on-again, off-again Cockney accent.)

    Katharine Hepburn dresses as a boy to help her gambling, embezzling father escape the French police. (The father is Edmund Gwenn! So, YAY!) They meet up with Cary Grant and become con artists. They aren't very good at it, so they start a musical/dance troupe (The Pink Pierrots) and travel around southwestern England in a motorized circus wagon. Eventually a plot develops.

    I loved it from start to finish. I don't know why you never hear about this movie too much. It's great!

    1. Shirley Temple, a couple of years after she made this, evidently decided that she didn't want to do movies anymore. I figure good for her--she had a career and left to do something else; that "something else" included being a friggin' ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

      I enjoyed this one a lot.