‘Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer’ a Charmingly Creepy Flick
Bizarre screenplay has Shirley Temple, 19, lusting after Cary Grant, 39
By Todd Hill
There’s no better way to get a sense of our country’s changing mores than to take in an old movie. You don’t have to venture very far into the past to be surprised by how fundamentally our views have been altered about what’s appropriate, particularly in regard to how we treat and behave toward other people.
Take, for instance, Martin Scorsese‘s 2013 film about the degenerate life of a financial broker, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” well regarded upon its release and nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture. A mere five years later, its demeaning treatment of women and rampant drug abuse already felt shocking as the #MeToo movement gained steam and scores of Americans were dying from opioid overdoses, although the bravura performance of Leonardo DiCaprio still stands up.
Indeed, take a look at any number of comedies from the ’00’s or ’90’s, from “Wedding Crashers” (2005) to “There’s Something About Mary” (1998), and their raunch seems like something from another era. You simply couldn’t do that today.
This, of course, brings us to the 1947 Shirley Temple movie “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.” A bit of a stretch? Well, sure, but not really if you actually take the time to watch the film.
No, “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” is not in the least bit raunchy. But it exists as the representation of a cultural world that is scarcely visible from the vantage point of today, and that’s what makes it, if not exactly fascinating, at least noteworthy.
“The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” doesn’t belong in any cinematic canon, you won’t find it on any list of the top 100 or 1,000 motion pictures that any self-respecting cinephile should see. To the extent that it’s remembered today it’s likely because of its catchy title, as well as an all-star cast of Temple, Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.
And that’s perfectly fine, and certainly enough. Movies, for the most part, become hits because of their movie stars. But my contention is that “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” deserves as many words as I’m giving it here because of its plot. I’m going to spend sometime on it now because it’s not just ridiculous, but jaw-droppingly tone-deaf.
To lay the groundwork, when this movie came out in 1947, Grant was 39, Loy 41 and Temple 19 (and married for two years already). Naturally, Grant and Loy end up together by the end of the film, but not until after the picture spends most of its running time trying to get Grant and Temple to hook up despite their 20-year age difference, which is creepier than it already sounds.
Even though there’s a 22-year gap in their ages, Loy and Temple portray sisters, Margaret and Susan Turner, in the movie. Margaret is a judge, and good for her; there couldn’t have been many female jurists in America in 1947. As it is, the progressiveness suggested by this character detail is likely unintentional, since in every other respect the picture’s screenplay — written by Sidney Sheldon, who would later become known for writing scores of trashy novels in the 1970’s-90’s — is alarmingly sexist.
Grant sashays into the flick as Richard Nugent, an artist who’s never seen creating any kind of art although he lives in a stylishly decorated apartment, and who has a date in Margaret’s courtroom for being involved in a bar brawl. No sparks are seen flying, and a few scenes later Temple’s Susan becomes infatuated with Richard after he gives a talk at her high school. That’s understandable; this is Cary Grant we’re talking about, and he wears some remarkably sharp suits in this movie.
At any rate, Susan, who’s no shy, retiring violet, sneaks into Richard’s apartment and falls asleep on his couch. This leads to another arrest for Richard, but the assistant district attorney (Rudy Vallee) and court psychiatrist Matt Beemish (Ray Collins), who is also the Turners’ uncle, arrange to have the charges dropped if Richard pretends to be interested in the teenage Susan and dates her. Huh?
As it turns out, this is Beemish’s way of getting Margaret and Richard to hook up, although the artist, apart from his good looks, hardly seems like the safest of catches, for either of Beemish’s nieces. But hey, it works!
“The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” is helped by a handful of well-played sequences, from a very physical obstacle course race between Grant and Vallee to a comedic nightclub scene that gradually devolves into an all-out verbal brawl involving nearly a dozen characters. But unfortunately, these have to share screen time with several awkward moments in which spunky Shirley Temple lusts after Grant, a sophisticated, middle-aged man old enough to be her father, at high school basketball games and other unsuitable venues.
Anyone familar with a fair number of films from the golden age of Hollywood in the mid-20th century has likely seen Cary Grant handle roles very similar to this in better movies. He had classier pairings with Myrna Loy than this as well, namely “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” which came out a year after this picture.
“The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” is more intriguing for showcasing Shirley Temple late in her career. She quit show business just three years later, at the young age of 22, when most film actresses today are just hitting their stride. But it’s a common phenomenon for child actors who don’t successfully cross over into adult roles to leave around this time.
For several years during the 1930’s, Temple’s was the most recognized face in America, more so than that of the president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. By the time she was in her late teens, what further heights did she have to climb? While it may sound cruel, the looks that made her impossibly cute as a child also made it impossible for her to compete with, say, Lauren Bacall as an adult. And Temple increasingly found herself losing the best roles to an actress she could compete with on every level given the chance, Judy Garland.
While Garland was starring in far better films like “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “The Clock” and “Easter Parade” during the mid-1940’s, Temple was relegated to leftovers like “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.” Still, it’s diverting to watch this movie and wonder what manner of film career Temple could have had as an adult if she really wanted one.
There’s one other aspect of this capably acted but bizarrely written motion picture, however, that’s simply amazing — its winning of the Oscar for Best Screenplay!
Todd Hill is a former journalist with 30 years of experience, much of it in film criticism, who misses neither journalism nor the film beat.