This particular film review was supposed to have been dedicated solely to blog reader Professor in Peril, who first recommended The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (also known as Bachelor Knight) to me. Then, since bombaynoir has been raving about Cary Grant for the past several weeks, I figured she’d enjoy this too.
The other day, my husband asked me my plans for the day, and I mentioned I’d be watching this film, because I was planning to review it. “The bachelor—and the bobby socks her?” my husband asked, completely at a loss. We’ve been rewatching Jeeves and Wooster the past couple of weeks, and I can well imagine my husband’s bewilderment: who is the lady in question? Who was the bobby? And why did he sock her?
So. To Professor in Peril, bombaynoir, and Tarun: this post’s for you. Enjoy!
The story begins, not with the bachelor, but with the bobby-soxer. Susan Turner (Shirley Temple) is seventeen years old, an orphan who lives with her elder sister Margaret (the wonderful Myrna Loy, one of my favourite actresses). Susan is the typical high-school girl: bubbly, rather giddy-headed, and having to be constantly shepherded out of silliness by the combined efforts of Margaret and their maid Bessie (Lillian Randolph).
Margaret, on the other hand, is the very epitome of mature, level-headed and sensible adulthood. And she should be; she is, after all, a judge (both Bessie and Susan constantly address her, teasingly, as “Your honour”). At breakfast, Margaret has to sternly prise Susan off the phone – and Susan, sitting down at the dining table, begins expressing her views about a recent verdict that Justice Margaret Turner has passed in her court.
It emerges that the case Margaret had to hear involved an older man who ran off with a teenaged girl—Margaret has been very strict with the sentence she’s passed (three years in prison for the man). Susan is most disapproving of Margaret’s verdict; she thinks May-December love stories are very romantic.
That morning, in court, Margaret is faced with a case involving a brawl-cum-cat fight that has left four people bruised and battered. The person responsible—a certain Mr Nugent—has not put in an appearance in court, even though his attorney insists that Nugent will be there any moment now. He does arrive, eventually, and not a moment too soon: Margaret has been getting most impatient at this sign of disrespect for the court’s time.
Richard Nugent (Cary Grant, looking rather tanned) is an artist. When he and the four people involved in the incident are questioned, the truth is revealed. Richard had been at a club the previous night with a woman who models for him. In the course of the evening, another woman—who had also one modeled for him—turned up and began chatting with Richard, which annoyed both the woman Richard was dining with, as well as the man who was the second woman’s date for the evening. What ensued was a rather shameful fight, from which only Richard appears to have emerged unscathed.
Margaret is just but stern in her verdict; she lets everybody off with a warning. She is also rather chilly towards Richard—in the short time he’s been standing in front of her, she’s come to the conclusion that he’s somewhat of a philanderer. Richard’s cheeriness, engendered by his relief at being left off so lightly, meets with a not-very-encouraging rejoinder. Case closed. Margaret moves on to other matters, and Richard goes off…
…coincidentally, to Susan’s school, where he’s been invited to give a lecture on art. This is to an auditorium full of bored teenagers, and his reception—when he first stands up, his face and figure hidden by the podium—is lukewarm at best.
When Richard comes up to the lectern and the bobby-soxers get a good look at him, he’s instantly very hot property indeed, especially with the girls in the audience. Susan, sitting beside her sort-of boyfriend Jerry (Johnny Sands), is completely smitten from the word go. To her bedazzled eyes, Richard Nugent is literally a knight in shining armour:
And when the lecture’s over and everybody’s leaving the auditorium, Susan manages to race ahead and grab Richard’s sleeve before he can escape. She tells him she’s the editor for the school magazine, and would love to have an interview with him, and could he please come to a quiet room with her so that she can talk to him in peace?
Richard tries to squirm out of it by making excuses, but Susan’s not listening. Finally, even though he really would rather go, Richard lets his politeness overrule his distaste for being hounded thus. Susan bulldozes him into a nearby room, gets out a notepad and asks him—starry-eyed all the while, and gaping up into his face with rapture—about his early life and why and how he took up art as a career.
Richard manages to break free of Susan’s tenacious grip with some difficulty, but not before she’s offered herself as a model for his forthcoming series of works on American life. Hassled and aching to get loose, Richard mutters a quick “Yes, yes,” and makes his escape. Little does he know what he’s let himself in for.
Because that night, after Margaret has left to dine out with a friend, an assistant district attorney called Tommy (Rudy Vallee), Susan dresses up in her sophisticated best—all high heels and fashionable dress and makeup—and goes off to meet Richard. She reaches the building where he lives, and is told by the boy manning the concierge desk that Richard isn’t at home right now. Susan nonchalantly informs the boy that she’s modeling for Richard.
The result of this is that the boy deduces that Susan’s a friend of Richard’s. He offers to take her upstairs to Richard’s apartment and let her in with his key, so that Susan can wait there, in comfort, for Richard to return.
Which she does, all the while practicing her charm and gearing up to be all poise and elegance when Richard arrives. Unfortunately, by the time Richard arrives—pretty late, as it happens—an exhausted Susan has fallen fast asleep on his sofa.
In the darkness of the drawing room, Richard doesn’t even notice that he has an unexpected guest. He goes up to his bedroom, changes his dinner jacket for a comfy dressing gown, then comes down, pours himself a drink, switches on a table lamp and sits down with a book—all the while completely oblivious of Susan’s presence.
It’s only when she suddenly squeaks “Dickie!” (yes, she has, of her own accord, begun addressing him in this fashion) that Richard is startled into realizing that there’s company present. And almost simultaneously, there’s an almighty banging at the front door, with people screaming for Susan. The US Marines have arrived to protect our bobby-soxer’s honour.
Well, not quite. Margaret, having returned home, has found that Susan is missing. Along with Tommy, she tries to discover where her little sister’s gone. They phone hospitals, all of Susan’s friends, and Tommy even gets the morgue checked out—and somewhere along the way, Margaret finds out that Susan had been raving about Richard, and her plans to be a model for him… which is why they’ve now turned up at Richard’s.
The scene now cuts to a cell in a police station lock-up, with Richard in residence. His attorney, who has been summoned, is told the entire story: Richard admits that in the melee which ensued as a result of Margaret and Tommy’s arrival at his apartment, Richard hit Tommy pretty hard. Now Tommy is pressing charges against Richard for having assaulted the assistant district attorney. Richard confides in his attorney that he hadn’t known Tommy was the assistant district attorney. If he’d known—well, he’d still have hit him.
The long and the short of it is that they decide to tackle this matter like adults. The judge who’s going to hearing the case agrees to an in camera meeting. Everybody concerned (with the exception of Susan) congregates in his chamber. This also includes Matthew ‘Matt’ Beemish (Ray Collins), a psychiatrist who is uncle to Margaret and Susan. After some discussion, the judge—not to mention Margaret and Uncle Matt—are satisfied that Richard is really not to blame for what had happened; it was all Susan’s silliness.
But what is to be done now? Uncle Matt is of the opinion that scolding Susan will have no effect, and that if Richard gets out of her life (as he has made very clear he wants to), it will only make her regard him in the light of a martyr. Susan has convinced herself that she and Richard are in love with each other, and attempting to pry her loose will only make her more determined than ever to hang on to Richard.
There is only one thing to be done, say Uncle Matt and Margaret: Richard must pretend to reciprocate Susan’s feelings. Take her out on dates, shower her with affection, whatever it takes. It won’t be long before Susan will get over this infatuation and realize that Richard isn’t for her.
Richard is not at all keen on the idea. But with Margaret looking down her nose at him (she still remembers that day when he’d been standing in her court) and Tommy threatening to press charges re: the assault, he doesn’t really have much choice in the matter. He has to go along with the wishes of the Turners, their family, and Tommy.
The result is that poor Richard ends up having to take Susan out to a basketball game at her school. She is all pep and vivacity, while Richard sits next to her and pretends enthusiasm. Jerry, who’s playing in the game, sees Richard with Susan, and Susan, catching his eye, snuggles up deliberately to Richard, making Jerry naturally feel jealous and annoyed.
Richard, however, notices this little tableau and guesses that here’s a possible way to get free of Susan sooner than would otherwise be possible. He asks to be introduced to Jerry, praises the boy to his face, tells him what a fine young lad he is. Jerry preens and instantly warms to Richard; Susan, on the other hand, is dismissive (in what she thinks is a reflection of what she fondly believes to be her own sophistication).
Where will this lead? Richard and Margaret, thrown into each other’s company thanks to the common link—Susan—are getting to like each other. But there’s Susan to be considered, since she’s nuts about Richard. And Jerry, who is love in Susan. And Tommy, who is very keen on Margaret.
When I saw Sidney Sheldon’s name among the credits for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (he is credited for both the story and the screenplay), I was a bit surprised. Sheldon? Writing a screwball comedy? (Well, there’s nothing to prevent a writer dabbling in very varied genres—I do, after all, but still). At the end of the film, I think The Naked Face, If Tomorrow Comes, and The Doomsday Conspiracy are far more accomplished.
What I liked about this film:
Myrna Loy and Cary Grant. They’re both among my favourite actors, and they’re both wonderful in this. Grant is suave and charming, yet also shows his flair for comedy; and Loy is gorgeous, with that drily witty way of delivering her best lines.
…which brings me to some of the best lines in the film. There are some great dialogues here, and some of the best are by Margaret:
(To Susan, after Susan’s asked to borrow some money): “You know I’d die for you, only sometimes, it’s very hard living with you.”
And: “Susan’s growing pains are rapidly becoming a major disease.”
I also like the way tiny details give away Susan’s immaturity. Susan tries to pretend she’s very sophisticated, in love with an older man, and whatnot, but it’s the little things that show us that she’s still more a child than anything else. For example, the exaggerated way in which we tries to cling to Richard when Jerry is around: it’s obvious she’s trying to thumb her nose at Jerry and show off. And the way, when Richard asks her what she’d like to order at a diner, she immediately orders a banana split—and proceeds to demolish it with a gusto that’s hardly in keeping with the elegant exterior she’s trying to propagate.
What I didn’t like:
The climax, which was tame and just a little unsatisfying. Yes, there’s an amusing scene set in a restaurant, where everybody who plays a major part in the film (and some who don’t play a major part) come together at one table and indulge in some bordering-on-the-slapstick repartee. But, other than that, the ending lacks punch. It looks as if it’s building up into something that’s going to be crazily comic—like, perhaps, Bringing Up Baby—but it just fizzles out.
Also, the romance between Richard and Margaret is pretty half-baked, almost as if Sidney Sheldon decided that since the bobby-soxer in question had an elder sister, it would be logical that the bachelor and the elder sister be paired off. They don’t really get much time alone together, and there’s little development of any actual romance.
On the whole, not one of the best Cary Grant screwball comedies I’ve seen—I’d certainly rate Charade and Bringing Up Baby over this one, and Arsenic and Old Lace (while not strictly screwball—more like totally bizarre) is my absolute favourite. Still, not a bad film at all. And if, like me, you like Myrna Loy and Cary Grant (or, better still, both), then you could do worse than watch this one.