Bachelor Mother: Review
I’ve been meaning to write about Bachelor Mother for a while. However, with so many great films from 1939 from which to chose it was difficult to determine when. And since there is a rhythm to my entries (I’m selective about what films get listed next to each other) it was a question of when as well as how. I like to mix it up and there just never seemed a good time to place this fun little gem amongst the rest of the jewels. But then the 2014 TCMFF released its full lineup and nestled amid the four days of cinema classics was the comedy, Bachelor Mother.
Bachelor Mother is a delightful comedy of double mistaken identity. First, there’s the poor shop girl Polly (Ginger Rogers) who is inadvertently confused for the mother of an abandoned child when she rescues a baby from rolling down the steps of a home for children. And second, there’s the dashing rich bachelor (David Niven) who is determined to keep the single woman and "her" baby together who is likewise wrongly presumed to be the father. Only after an unsuccessful series of adamant denials does Rogers become attached to the foundling, Niven become attached to Rogers and a happy ending is provided to a charming story that defied the censors.
Star, Ginger Rogers is most famously known as the best remembered dancing partner to cinema’s greatest hoofer, Fred Astaire. In fact, when she wasn’t dancing with Astaire much of Rogers’ career during the 1930s was spent as the second or third banana on films that centered on some kind of theater setting (42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Stage Door). It wasn’t until 1939 when she made what was suppose to be her last film with Astaire (The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle) that Rogers’ independent efforts as a leading lady really took off, leading a short path to the Academy Award she would earn as Best Actress for her work the following year in Kitty Foyle.
Of course, director/writer, Garson Kanin (My Favorite Wife, Adam’s Rib) deserves much of the credit for creating a character perfectly suited to Rogers’ persona of a scrappy dame with a heart of gold who suffers no fools. Many actresses have tried to play that type of character before and since, but it is Rogers who owns it. She is tough, but not hard, lower class, but not common, and a sharp wisecracker without being rudely snide. There is a lovable brassiness to her that is endearingly attractive (a quality Kanin would again successfully work with when teaming with Judy Holiday in Born Yesterday).
Co-star, David Niven is also a tremendous contributing factor to the success of this film. Best remembered for his lead performance in Around the World in Eighty Days, he appeared in Bachelor Mother seventeen years earlier. Before being partnered with Rogers he had appeared only as a supporting actor in a dozen or so films and only three of them where notable (The Prisoner of Zenda, The Dawn Patrol, and Wuthering Heights). Thanks to his fine performance as a romantic (as well as comedic) match to Roger’s down-to-earth Polly, Niven solidified his place as a sophisticated lead in romantic comedies for decades ever after.
With a superb supporting performance by Charles Coburn (The Lady Eve, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) as Niven’s father who can’t wait for his playboy son to settle down and provide him with a grandchild, additional support by romantic rival Frank Albertson (Ah, Wilderness!, Fury), and a special on going bit by Donald Duck, Bachelor Mother is a real charmer that is sure to please any audience whether its on the big screen or playing on your home TV. Of course, I wouldn’t miss the chance to see it in a theater, but if you can’t make it to Hollywood the evening of April 10 then I’d get it on your Netflix list as soon as possible.
There are four other films from 1939 playing at this year’s TCMFF, but I’ve already written entries about Gone with the Wind, The Women, Stagecoach, and The Wizard of Oz. So, the time had come to write about Bachelor Mother. And although this film is not as well known as the other four 1939 favorites scheduled to screen, it is one to be honored as highly as the others - for its wit, for its charm, and for its entertainment value. When you see it you’ll discover for yourself that Bachelor Mother is yet another reason why 1939 stands as the greatest year in movie making history - because it’s a damn fine film.