Judge Dan Mancini will remind you of a man, then he'll pants you as you try to climb a rope.
"You remind me of a man."
"The man with the power."
"The power of hoodoo."
"Remind me of a man."
Mellow greetings, ukie-dukies. Another quality Cary Grant comedy has found its way to DVD. Let's take a look.
Facts of the Case
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is the tale of one Richard Nugent (Cary Grant, North by Northwest), a painter of fine art and troublemaking man-about-town. He finds himself in front of Judge Margaret Turner (Myrna Loy, The Thin Man) after his good looks cause a catfight at the Vampire Club. She lets him off easy, but things turn sour when Nugent gives a speech at the local high school and Turner's 17-year-old sister, Susan (Shirley Temple, Bright Eyes), falls head-over-heels for him and sneaks into his apartment with an offer to model for a painting. Turner's Uncle Beemish (Ray Collins, Citizen Kane) happens to be a court psychologist, and suggests Margaret sentence Nugent to pretending as though he's Susan's boyfriend until the girl's crush passes. Beemish's secret plan, however, is to get Margaret to fall in love with Nugent before she turns into an old maid or finally gives in to the advances of a grating assistant district attorney (Rudy Vallee, The Palm Beach Story) who doesn't deserve her.
Ah, the 1940s: a simpler, more innocent time…sort of. Can you imagine a studio today greenlighting a project in which, say, Tom Hanks is sentenced by a judge to date Hilary Duff? Neither can I. Imagine the protests by incensed parents and religious groups. While The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer steers clear of the more prurient possibilities inherent in its setup, it's hardly ignorant of them. Grant's gadfly, Richard Nugent, has less than pure motives in suggesting to Susan Turner she'd make a good model for his artistic study of American youth, but said motives don't involve the seduction of an underage girl. He just wants to get rid of her. Nugent is a man clearly accustomed to manipulating women both with his looks and by telling them what they want to hear. This time, his little white lies land him in a heap of trouble. And that's the secret charm of the film. This is not, after all, a romantic pairing of Cary Grant and Shirley Temple, but Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. Judge Turner's method of torturing and humiliating Nugent proves she's his equal in both intellect and playfulness. Like all screwball couples, Nugent and Turner are opposites—she the rational legal scholar, he the impetuous and intuitive artist—and we recognize immediately how perfectly they match. Ultimately, the film is an extended metaphor about the youthful exuberance of romantic love, the idea that a gloriously unselfconscious willingness to look and act a giddy fool is the lone province of children and lovers—even when those lovers are attractive and successful professionals in the throes of middle-age.
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer's first great asset is an Academy Award-winning script by Sidney Sheldon (I Dream of Jeannie). Silly as the film's conceit is, Sheldon so packed his script with sharp, snappy dialogue, the actors aren't compelled to linger on funny lines or play them up like punchlines. The laughs unfurl almost continually and seemingly without effort. This consistently droll tone tides us over between the set pieces that offer the film's big laughs, including an opening courtroom sequence in which the hung-over patrons of the Vampire Club spar verbally with one another, and it becomes clear to audience and Judge Turner alike that the source of all the strife is Richard Nugent's carefree romantic manipulation of nearly every woman in his sphere of influence. One of the funniest sequences in the film, it also quickly and effortlessly establishes character, and sets us up for the introduction of the Nugent's entanglement with the underage girl. But the scene that ensured the film's fame and prestige (and probably won Sheldon the Oscar) is Nugent's and Judge Turner's first date. As the two attempt to have dinner at the Vampire Club, their meal is interrupted by a series of unwanted guests, including Susan and her would-be boyfriend Jimmy, assistant D.A. Tommy Chamberlain, and a brash couple from the opening courtroom sequence, each of them with his or her own bone to pick with Nugent. The scene is a perfectly-timed building of comic chaos and, set in the third act, toys with our eagerness to see Grant and Loy finally united.
Cary Grant's coupling of leading man good looks with impeccable comic timing and delivery proves indispensable here. Despite the quality of Sheldon's script, without Grant, around whom the entire setup coalesces, none of it would have worked. All of the actors handle the comedy with aplomb, but Grant is the powerhouse, and he's given ample opportunity to display the full range of his comic talents, from wry intelligence to goofiness infused with charm by his looks. And Richard Nugent escapes sleaziness in no small part because of the actor portraying him. How can we fault Nugent if a 17-year-old girl happens to fall in love with him? He looks like Cary Grant!
Warner Brothers' DVD offers a decent little restoration of The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Source elements are well-preserved, and display only minor flaws. Detail is relatively strong, and the black-and-white image has a fine gray scale. Grain levels are appropriate, and give the image a film-like quality.
Audio is a spruced-up, single-channel mono track that leaves no room for complaint.
Supplements are relatively light, but what's offered is of high quality. The Lux Radio Theater adaptation of The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer from June 13, 1949 is housed on the disc. In it, Grant and Temple reprise their roles from the film. These radio adaptations are entertaining and worth preserving.
Little 'Tinker is a vintage MGM animated short, directed by Tex Avery and featuring the adventures of B.O. Skunk, a little guy who's desperate for romance. Warner's archiving of these cartoons on their DVD releases is great, I just wish they'd consistently provide an option to automatically play them before the feature, as they have with the "Warner Night at the Movies" option on some of their two-disc Special Editions. Having the choice to roll them as a prelude to the main title would be fun, as well as adding a logic to their inclusion on the disc. If they're going to be included, they might as well be fully integrated into the viewing experience.
Finally, there is a Cary Grant trailer gallery, featuring trailers for Bringing Up Baby (hopefully, this signals a DVD release in the very near future), Gunga Din, My Favorite Wife, The Philadelphia Story, Destination Tokyo, Arsenic and Old Lace, Night and Day, and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
Don't let its silly conceit turn you off. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a well-written comedy with a quality cast. If you're a fan of Cary Grant, it's a must for your collection.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Lux Radio Theater Adaptation
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