Monday 28 May 2007

Bachelor Mother (1939) Garson Kanin

Amazing as it may seem, there were Hollywood films in 1939 that weren't undying classics, but such was the quality of that year that most of them were actually pretty good. This one partners the all American Ginger Rogers with the very English David Niven. She's Polly Parrish, who's been working at John B Merlin & Son for a whole three weeks, up to and including Christmas, but now her time is up and she's out looking for a job. What she finds is a baby being left on the doorstep of the foundling home and is naturally mistaken for the mother.

David Niven is David Merlin, son of the Merlin who runs the company (who is Charles Coburn) and he gets another decent role in the same year that brought him Raffles and Wuthering Heights. He tries to help the apparent mother in distress by rehiring her, extending her contract and giving her a raise. The baby also becomes her Christmas present, all in good faith of course but hardly appropriate. Hilarity naturally ensues.

Actually, hilarity may be overdoing it a little but I'm not being as sarcastic as I would usually be. Ginger Rogers is known as a great dancer, but she was an awesome comedienne and she gets plenty of opportunity to shine here as the baby gets bounced around between her and the young Merlin, not literally thank goodness but very effectively nonetheless. Even perennial butler E E Clive ends up on the action. There are great scenes between Parrish and Merlin, especially when David Niven gets flustered, something he hardly ever did.

The downside is that this is yet another remake of a foreign movie, proving once more that nothing is new in Hollywood. It was originally Kleine Mutti, a Austrian/Hungarian production from 1935, starring a whole bunch of people I've never heard of, including Franciska Gaal in the lead who had starred in The Buccaneer a year earlier than this film for Cecil B De Mille and The Girl Downstairs for Norman Taurog. This year, 1939, she was appearing opposite Bing Crosby in Paris Honeymoon. I wonder why they didn't cast her in the role she'd created. Presumably the studio system.

The upside is that Rogers and Niven work well together and the romantic comedy side of this film is highly enjoyable, however contrived it may be. I've learned that as great as Ginger Rogers was with Fred Astaire, and vice versa, the stories they worked together in were pretty poor and usually served to do little more than provide a place for the pair of them to strut their stuff. It's sad to say but Astaire could have played Niven's role here superbly and they could have made this just as good a film without all the dance numbers.

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