The Flaws and Charms of ‘Bachelor Mother’ and its remake ‘Bundle of Joy’

In Hollywood nowadays, remakes are more common than superhero movies and that’s saying something. But, of course, they made remakes even in the good ol’ days and the films I want to discuss are a prime example. Those films are the 1939 screwball comedy, Bachelor Mother, and its 1956 musical remake, Bundle of Joy.

During December, TCM showed all the great holiday movies and these two were included. I had already seen Bachelor Mother a few years ago when I went through my whole Ginger Rogers obsession. Bundle of Joy, on the other hand, was a new discovery. When I started watching it, I didn’t realize it was a straight-up remake with singing.

If you’re unfamiliar, both Bachelor Mother and Bundle of Joy follow Polly Parrish, (Ginger Rogers and Debbie Reynolds, respectively), a department store clerk. On Christmas, she gets fired. While looking for a job, she sees a baby on the doorstep and after picking it up for a moment, is mistaken as its mother. No matter what she does, she can’t seem to convince anyone that it’s not her baby. Then David Merlin (David Niven and Eddie Fisher, respectively), the heir to the department store, gets involved and their screwball romance begins.

So, in honor of Debbie Reynolds and because I can’t get enough of Ginger Rogers, I thought it’d be fun to compare and contrast the two films, both their flaws and their charms:

Casting, Casting, Casting

Polly Parrish

In the original film, Ginger Rogers played the Polly Parrish role. Rogers was apparently unsure when signing on to the film, afraid that the film lacked a “dramatic honesty.” After being assured that was not the case, she took the leap and the film grew on her.

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Her hat! Anyone else obsessed?

Debbie Reynolds was just 24 years old when she took on the part and she was both married and months pregnant. Still, that didn’t stop her from giving the part her all. Her appeal is what makes the remake worthwhile.

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So true! ALWAYS ENCHANTING!

The Young Mr. Merlin

David Niven played the young David Merlin in the 1939 film while Debbie’s beau and famous crooner, Eddie Fisher, took on the part in the remake. For Niven, the film marked his first romantic leading role and he is fantastic in it! His sophisticated British sensibility makes for fun when he’s a bumbling, foolish man in love.

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OH, David Niven. ❤ ❤ ❤

On the other hand, Eddie Fisher is quite unremarkable in the remake. Beyond being a handsome guy and having a great voice, his acting leaves a little something to be desired.

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lol, they couldn’t say much for his acting though…

Additionally, Charles Coburn, who I discussed in my article about The More the Merrier, plays the senior Mr. Merlin and as usual, steals the show!

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You tell ’em, Charles!

The Scripts/Music

So, Bachelor Mother was penned by Robert Krasna, but was actually adapted from a story by Felix Jackson. Although the concept is quite ludicrous, the quippy dialogue is what brings the film to life! You’re willing to go along with it because the characters feel true and you’re too busy laughing to think about how nonsensical it is, not to mention, a bit misogynistic (I mean, c’mon, it’s okay that she keeps the baby because she’s now got a man! Hmph!).

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Ginger’s expressions are also HILARIOUS.

On the other hand, even though Bundle of Joy did have a script penned by Robert Carson and Arthur Sheekman, I wonder that they even went through the effort. Robert Krasna is also given a writing credit, which makes sense, considering it’s the EXACT SAME SCRIPT. I’m not kidding. Beyond adding new musical numbers, this remake did nothing to change the way the story unfolds. The dialogue is verbatim.

But, some of the songs are not bad and this one may be its best.

The Direction

Garson Kanin, who had a hand in great screwball comedies like The More the Merrier and Adam’s Rib, directed Bachelor Mother. Perhaps because of those films, he understood the sensibility better. The film flows and is first and most importantly, an entertaining ride.

Norman Taurug, who directed Bundle of Joy, also had an impressive resume with Mad About Music, which was a Deanna Durbin film, and Girl Crazy. Perhaps the real reason the remake is lesser than the original is because it was conceived as a star-vehicle. Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds had just married and Reynolds gave birth to Carrie around the time of the film’s release. It provided a way to sell the film, but not much seemed to go into creating something original and unique, which Bachelor Mother certainly was.

The Final Report

No question, Bachelor Mother is by far superior. It was made in 1939, which is objectively one of the greatest years in film. Ginger and David carry the film with ease and you go on their journey, buying into it and feeling happy to be there!

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#SWOON

Bundle of Joy, while certainly extremely flawed, is still worth watching, if only to see Debbie Reynolds at 24, singing and dancing and living with grace, poise, and grit. The songs don’t always make sense, but they’re entertaining too.

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There are moments when you’re like, “Aw they’re so cute together.” Then, you remember that two years later Eddie dumped Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor and you’re just MAD.

Vintage Trailers Below:

 

Bachelor Mother and Bundle of Joy Gifs property of RKO Pictures.

Damn the Torpedoes!

If you read my blog, you’ll know that last weekend, I attended the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood, California. While I saw a good many films this year, there were a few bright standouts. One of them I had seen years ago, but didn’t really remember. I had such a good time watching it, I knew I was gonna have to write about it. That film is 1943’s The More the Merrier.

The More the Merrier was one of director George Stevens’ last comedies. When the war started, Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and headed a film crew, shooting footage of D-Day as well as concentration camps. Consequently, after seeing the horrors of the holocaust, Stevens was only interested in making dramatic films. After the war, he made such classics as A Place in the Sun, Shane, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

While it makes sense that Stevens would have little interest in comedies after the war, it’s easy to see in watching The More the Merrier that he had great talent in that arena. The More the Merrier follows Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) who, in trying to be a good samaritan, decides to rent out half her apartment given the Washington D.C. housing shortage. Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), an older gentleman, talks her into renting to him even though she initially wanted a female roommate. Dingle decides Milligan needs a man. Dingle rents half his room to Joe Carter (Joel McCrea) in the hopes that sparks will fly. But, Milligan has a fiance….DRAMA. CONFLICT. COMEDY, ETC.

This film does so many things right, but the main reason it succeeds is  because of the actors. Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn are superb, their comic timing exact.

Jean Arthur doesn’t get talked about enough. She paved the way for so many female comedians. She was beautiful in a simple way. She was smart. She had heart. She gave countless Oscar worthy performances and was Frank Capra’s favorite leading lady. It’s also worth noting that Arthur was in her early forties when she starred in this film and that her age didn’t matter…at all! Oh, how the industry has changed…

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Coburn almost outshines the whole group as Benjamin Dingle. He’s bumbling and conniving, but at heart, a very sweet old man. Coburn had great success as a character actor, having noteworthy roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bachelor Mother. But, he ended up taking home the Oscar in 1943 for Best Supporting Actor in The More the Merrier. And believe me, it was well deserved!

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Joel McCrea…I don’t even know how to express my feelings about. He had such a natural charm. He was just automatically likable. Cari Beauchamp introduced the film at the festival Saturday morning, saying, “It’s never too early for Joel McCrea.” I heartily agree!

The scene on the porch stoop is said to be one of the best love scenes in American cinema. Like many films of that era, it’s all suggestion. The sensuality and eroticism are all implied, but never directly dealt with. If you can watch this scene without having the hots for Joel McCrea, well, I’ll be honest, I don’t understand you. Just look at that face…

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This film could have easily been a stage play. Most of the action takes place inside the apartment and the dialogue is, like most screwball comedies, fast and superbly quippy. The laughs are countless and even 73 years later, it’s a joy to watch.

Just a warning: After watching this film, you will, one, want to make “Damn the torpedoes!” your new catch phrase and two, be filled with sadness that Joel McCrea is not a possible suitor…or maybe that’s just me. 😍

Trailer (sort of – more just an elongated clip) below:

I leave you with this gif. If it doesn’t convince you to watch this film, I don’t know what will…

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