The term “bachelor flat” implies a den of wanton hedonism, but there’s nothing hedonistic visiting director Frank Tashlin’s Bachelor Flat. I’ve yet to experience Tashlin’s other gems, several starring Jayne Mansfield (who’s name-dropped here), but if they’re anything like this I’ll help myself by avoiding them. To say this is movie’s dated is the understatement of the year!
Anthropology professor, Bruce Patterson (Terry-Thomas) is the apple of every lady’s eye on his campus, for the sole fact he’s British. He decides to stay in the beach house of his soon-to-be fiance (Celeste Holm) to avoid the co-eds. His next-door neighbor is a meddlesome kid named Michael (Richard Beymer). When Bruce’s fiancee’s daughter, Libby (Tuesday Weld) – who said fiancée never bothered to tell Bruce about – arrives, a series of shenanigans ensues.
As evidenced by previous reviews, I’m able to remain objective when a movie suffers from out-of-date notions regarding gender and race, if the movie sufficiently yields enough entertainment to help me forget. In 87-minutes there’s no humor derived in Bachelor Flat, leaving the sexist flaws to rise to the surface. And these aren’t things like making a woman do chores in pearls and a ball gown. Libby is continually threatened with assault at several points. Sure, one such sequence involves Bruce stuffing her into a coffin-like crate in order to call the cops; but another has Beymer’s Michael sitting on her telling her if she doesn’t talk about why she’s there she could be assaulted! “You’re alone with two grown men. Anything can happen.” What a charmer!
I understand where the 1960 sexist notions of this movie are coming from. Tashlin spent time directing movies with an actress known for being less than intelligent, a walking set of boobs. And in case you’re wondering, Bachelor Flat has Beymer make a joke about an underage (in the film) Weld’s lack of mammaries. With that, it’s obvious Tashlin directs what he knows, so the movie plays as a male fantasy written by a breathing box of rocks (otherwise known as Bud Grossman….appropriate for this movie). The movie sets up Patterson’s college as one where every girl is using the university as their hunting ground; spending time snapping their gum, primping their hair, and putting on makeup to look pretty for the professor instead of actually learning. One girl even says she only entered into the major because of Bruce. Yet, Grossman isn’t able to figure out the difference between an anthropologist and a paleontologist….what Bruce is teaching! Obviously, the divergence into recreating Bringing Up Baby with a dachshund, “introduced” as Jessica Dachshund, hiding a dinosaur bone on the beach was a last-minute thing and there wasn’t time to go back and rewrite Bruce’s profession.
Also, with all the girlies getting their panties in a twist over Bruce, you’d think the man was Errol Flynn. No disrespect to Terry-Thomas, but the movie’s only supposition for Bruce Patterson’s attractiveness is he’s British. Not looks, not charm, not intelligence….British. I love a good British man, but they usually have a bit more going on beneath the surface. And there’s little reason for every…single…girl in California to be throwing themselves at this man. Unless there’s something going on we aren’t privy to. Terry-Thomas is comfortable in the role, probably because, like everyone else in the movie, there’s little to do other than run around and act stupid.
Because the script thinks it’s so hysterical, every comic sequence is jacked up to fifteen. You start to assume Bruce’s house looks like the Washington Monument for all the people who “accidentally” end up there. And instead of explaining to people what’s going on, Bruce is forced to open the Big Book of Chicanery to exacerbate everything. When a lady friend of Michael’s shows up at Bruce’s house, and Michael comes looking for her, a smart man might tell Michael the woman is in his house and accidentally got the addresses confused; an easy mistake since Michael lives in a mobile home on Bruce’s property. Instead, Bruce proceeds to throw the woman under his bed as if he’s got something to hide. There’s no explanation other than the presumption it’s funny watching Bruce scramble to hide women throughout his house.
For being about Bruce as a man besieged by ladies, the bulk of the premise follows Libby and her burgeoning romance with Michael. You know, when the two men aren’t throwing her on the ground. Libby’s introduction anchors the story in some small way, and Tuesday Weld is a beautiful girl saddled with an atrocious, and borderline insensitive, role. Libby runs away from boarding school where she assumes, rightly for all the depth given to it, that her mother hasn’t told Bruce about her because it’ll make mother feel old. So instead Libby pretends she’s an escaped juvenile delinquent in order to stay with Bruce because…she likes him? There’s no proper explanation, and because Holm and Weld are never on-screen together, the mother’s affection for her daughter feels disingenuous. Especially once we learn Holm’s character was apparently seeing another man before meeting Bruce. Chronology and time don’t exist in this world, apparently. As for Beymer, the less said about him the better. He’s passable in West Side Story, but he has the hardest time playing a normal kid in Bachelor Flat. Every emotion registers the same way, just change a smile into a frown, and when he’s angry the volume raises slightly, but the expression stays the same.
Bachelor Flat is a fairly terrible movie. It’s worth watching if you’re a Tashlin completist, or can ignore complete stupidity. If you’re a fan of Weld, she looks lovely.
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