The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer April 12, 2017
Although it helps that it stars Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Shirley Temple, actors so charming they could sit stoically for an entire movie and still be radiant, what makes 1947’s The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer such a riot is the way its screenwriter, Sidney Sheldon, decides to not so much focus on the utter preposterousness of the situation he writes but more on the uproariously funny misunderstandings and scintillating dialogue that come up as a result of it.
That preposterous situation isn’t your average screwball one but a more juvenile rendering. The movie circles around Susan Turner (Temple), a chirpy, precocious 17-year-old living blissfully with her aunt Margaret (Loy), a no-nonsense judge whose motherly instincts have basically turned her into a mother. Every day is boringly normal: Margaret sees case after case poised to make her eyes roll to the back of her head, and Susan sits through class after class only desiring to get a banana split with her would-be boy toy (Johnny Sands) after school.
But things are thrown into a tailspin following the first case we see Margaret undertake. The case, a typical one for the judge, involves an artist, Dickie Nugent (Grant), who allegedly started a brawl at a local nightclub. Only minutes into the hearing, though, is it evident that Nugent is only responsible for messing with the female libido. It seems that any aggressions were an effect of two women fighting for his affections. He is, fortunately, released with only a simple warning.
He comes right back into Margaret’s life, however, when he visits Susan’s high school as a guest lecturer. Wistfully sharing his artistic knowledge to a mob of fatigued teenagers, no one in the auditorium seems to much care what he has to say. Except for Susan, who sees the man as her very own knight in shining armor. Infatuation is immediate, with her going as far as introducing herself and somehow getting asked by Nugent to act as a model for one of his paintings.
That night, she sneaks into his apartment – in a dress that might be better worn by a 30-something career woman – and causes even more commotion for the unassuming Nugent. Margaret and her close friend (and maybe love interest) Tommy Chamberlain (Rudy Vallee) track the girl down.
And the unexpected arrival leads to Nugent impulsively assaulting Chamberlain. Worried that problems of the fiasco’s nature will hold steady as long as Susan’s infatuation continues to thrive, Margaret and Chamberlain come up with an assiduously strange idea: if Nugent “dates” Susan for a short period and allows for her lust for diminish, then they will drop the assault charges being held over his head.
Such is a thoroughly dumb plot – it’s so absurd that we never for a minute stop reminding ourselves that everything in front of us could only happen in a romantic comedy released in 1947 – but The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer manages to work because it seems to be in on the joke that it’s driven by an utterly ludicrous storyline. Grant is so delectably smarmy we can almost feel him craving to look straight into the camera with the same exasperation of Jim Halpert dealing with Dwight Schrute’s bullshit. And Loy plays the straight man with exquisite dedication. Even Temple, then 19 and still prone to mugging for the camera just as she did as a tot, is charismatic, perfectly cast as a child who wants nothing more than to be a woman taken seriously.
The film is spiritually a screwball comedy, only it doesn’t see high class fuzzy-heads chattering maniacally over champagne and caviar in their crumbling mansions. It rather shows an adoration of working-class heroes stuck in a sitcom-ready tizzy who choose increasingly batty ways to try to get out of their respective problems.
The movie’s success has quite a lot to do with its appealing ensemble, but it’s Sheldon who makes the feature such a likable farce. He gives his actors plenty of room to show off their tight comedic timing, but he’s also a master at devising wonderfully funny mix-ups and characters so note-perfect in their “types” that the humor runs spotlessly. It’s lightweight popcorn fare smart enough to prevent itself from floating away into oblivion.
Audiences of 1947 took to The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer’s geniality, too. It was a critical success, garnering Sheldon an Oscar for his screenplay, and was commercially bulletproof, turning out to be the second highest-grossing feature of the year (behind Cecil B. DeMille’s Unconquered). Perhaps it’s slightly outdated – its views on women in the workplace are about as forward thinking as 1942’s Woman of the Year – but its agreeability hasn’t wavered in the 70 years since its original release. B+