Classic film fans are mourning the loss of star Shirley Temple today. In her honor, I’m reposting one of my favorite movies starring her, with additional reviews of her work coming in March.
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is worth remaking today, and by the same token it’s witnessed in every film made in Hollywood currently. The tale of an older man being forced to date a teenage girl could easily slip into dark and disturbing territory, but with loveable leading man Cary Grant and perpetual ray of sunshine Shirley Temple in the roles, you’ll find yourself laughing at the predicament. This is the second pairing of Myrna Loy with Grant, and while their romance is the “acceptable” one, it doesn’t have nearly the comic effervescence of Grant and Temple, leaving the audience to wonder if this May-December romance could work out.
Richard Nugent (Grant) is a womanizing playboy whose landed himself in the courtroom of Judge Margaret Turner (Loy). When Margaret’s little sister, Susan (Temple) falls for Nugent there’s a simple solution: force Nugent to date the girl in order to help her get over her attraction!
A film with this premise should have the makings of a cautionary tale. Just imagine the ads: “A young girl, like a moth to a flame, compelled to love a man old enough to be her father.” It was unplanned, but that Cary Grant joke from Gidget Goes to Rome perfectly encapsulates this film (read the original review if you missed it). The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer explores the unrealistic expectations of young girls, and the idea that an older man may be attractive but there’s little emotional connection in that sort of relationship. Someone might want to clue in the rest of Hollywood because nowadays it’s not surprising to cast a forty-something actor against a twenty-something leading lady. The May-December romance may be condemned in this movie, but it’s enforced and encouraged in the system that creates moving pictures. The script by Sidney Sheldon is frivolous enough, along with the leads, that you’ll forget the disturbing implications inherent within the plot; there’s also quite a few sequences where Richard explains to Susan the nature of her infatuation, and isn’t shy about stating they have nothing in common. Richard never takes advantage of Susan, nor does her encourage her to prove her inexperience (à la Kahuna in Gidget…yes, another Gidget reference). While Richard does play along to a point, it’s more to bother Margaret and get out of the relationship entirely.
Of course, this leads into questions of the Electra complex, which Sheldon’s script believes is alive and well. Margaret’s quasi-boyfriend, Tommy (Rudy Vallee), and her Uncle believe Susan’s rebelliousness stems from the lack of a father figure. Thus, the entire relationship between Susan and Richard takes on a psychological attempt to find a father. Unfortunately, the notion isn’t dispelled by the end, as Susan abruptly turns about-face and gives up Richard at the insistence of her uncle. Why didn’t he threaten her with a spanking – which he does – at the beginning? It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth as well as a sour note for the climax.
Thankfully, the performances are the cream of the crop. It must be so unbelievable that Myrna Loy (42 at the time) would have a 17-year-old daughter, so the script places her as the sister to Temple; here’s another moment where the film plays with conventions of age, reinforcing the desire for a sexy (and young) leading lady. Loy plays the straight man against the wacky hijinks of Grant and Temple. In Mr. Blandings, Loy and Grant were a no-frills couple hunting the American Dream; here they’re the pinnacles of law and order (Loy) butting heads with spontaneity and frivolousness (Grant). It’s a different dynamic than Blandings, but Loy never comes off as comfortable in the guise of a tough, no-fun woman. There’s an absence of fun scenes or moments to shine for Loy; she’s bland, and relegated to being so. Grant is the colorful one in the bunch and this is his movie. He’s the knight in shining armor to both Temple and Loy (envisioned by both ladies in a dream sequence that, again, is similar to the house fantasy from Mr. Blandings), and comes with a non-threatening sexuality that makes the uncomfortable plot palatable; not to mention he gets the best lines: “I told that to 500 little girls!” Attorney: “Let’s not get into that.” When Grant takes the reins and decides to start acting like a teenager he’s setting himself up for a similar role in Monkey Business. He does it better here, with a cockeyed fedora and his refrain of “You remind me of a man…” Temple is the requisite bobby-soxer, and doesn’t necessarily contribute much other than wide-eyed naïvety and name recognition. It’s shocking to consider that Temple, the embodiment of perpetual childhood was already married with children when she made this!
I always enjoy watching The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. It’s absurd plot reveals real issues with relationships, albeit in a hilarious manner. Grant is having fun opposite an authoritarian Loy and the innocent Temple. Remember those innocent days when a grown man could be forced to date an underage girl? Well, see it here!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.