Between mystery illnesses and miscellaneous bothers, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks, but hopefully we can get back into the swing of things this week.
Another 31 Days of Oscar celebration has come and gone, and my resolution to post a recommendation a day kind of fell apart there in the middle, didn’t it? Oh, well. There’s always next year. And in the meantime, TCM is celebrating a return to regular programming by anointing one of my absolute favorites, Ginger Rogers, as Star of the Month.
What makes Ginger so special, you may ask? Well, if you have to ask, you obviously have not seen very many of her films, or else you just know her from her very successful pairing with Fred Astaire in ten films. But if that’s your only exposure to the divine Miss R., this month’s film lineup can easily rectify that for you.
In my review of The Major and the Minor (still one of my favorite Ginger performances of all time), I touched on some of the reasons why I love this woman’s films. Yes, she was a remarkable dancer, but even now, she remains somewhat underrated as a performer, so intertwined is her film persona with that of Astaire. And while many casual movie fans remember other parts of Fred’s–other dancing partners, really, like Judy Garland (Easter Parade), Cyd Charisse (The Band Wagon), and Rita Hayworth (You’ll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovelier)–not many can easily recall a non-Fred-paired role of Ginger’s.
And that really is a shame, because her comedic skills outstripped her dancing prowess by a mile, at least in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong: I love watching those Fred and Ginger classics, particularly Top Hat, Swing Time, and Shall We Dance, my personal favorites. And when TCM aired all ten Fred and Ginger pics in a row recently, I was barely able to pry myself away from the television.
While there are quite a few treasures coming up in the next two Wednesdays (among them the screwball Vivacious Lady, the relatively racy Primrose Path, and the aforementioned Major), I particularly want to encourage you to catch one of Rogers’ best comedic performances, in 1939’s Bachelor Mother.
Ginger plays Polly Parrish, a single store clerk who has just been fired from her holiday sales job right before Christmas. On her lunch break, she walks by a foundling home and finds an abandoned baby boy on the front steps. The administrators of the home, mistaking Polly for the baby’s mother, resolve to return “her” child to her care, enlisting the help of Polly’s former boss, David Merlin. David hires Polly back and arranges for the baby to be delivered to Polly’s apartment that evening, much to her chagrin. But when David threatens to fire Polly if she does not accept responsibility for “her” child, she finds herself taking on the role of “bachelor mother” to the sweet little boy, losing her heart to him AND to the man who forced her into assumed motherhood in the first place!
In this film, you see the funny side of Rogers’ talent that had heretofore only been hinted at in her dance flicks and other films such as 1937’s Stage Door. Her timing is impeccable, her facial expressions perfectly sliding from quizzical amusement to relief, from confused anger to luminous adoration, in the blink of an eye. Watch as she skirts around her nervousness at dining with a group of tony dilettantes by pretending to be Swedish. Her joy at the charade is obvious, yet she slides into the sophisticated facade quickly and elegantly:
David Niven appears here in his first major leading role (after making a splash earlier in the year as Linton in Wuthering Heights). As the romantic lead, he induces the necessary swoons, but also many of the laughs as he reacts to the craziness surrounding him. In one scene, his character, the son of the store’s owner, tries to return a defective toy, despite Polly’s warnings that the store’s exchange department never exchanges anything. His growing frustration results in pure hilarity as the scene dissolves into utter chaos (complete with a great display of physical comedy from the rather dignified Niven).
The delightful Charles Coburn also appears in one of his many wealthy, fatherly roles, this time as David’s outraged papa. As John B. Merlin, Coburn gesticulates, yells, and plots, stealing the show along the way (and delivering one of the best lines, too). And Frank Albertson is just the right mix of bemusement and sliminess necessary to play scheming floor clerk Freddie, whose interference makes things difficult for David and Polly.
Also notable: the very important supporting role of Donald Duck, who plays a large role in uniting the film’s two lovers! You’ll have to watch the movie to see exactly how he accomplishes that. 🙂
To my continuing horror, Bachelor Mother is not available on DVD, and the only versions available on videotape (rare as they are) have been–GASP!–colorized. No, thanks. I’d rather go swimming in a shark-filled pond wearing bacon pants than watch a pathetically-colored version of this fantastic movie.
Make sure you catch this one while it’s on, or DVR it for later viewing! It’s airing at 9:45PM EST on Wednesday the 24th, and again on May 9th at 6:30AM.
I hope you love it as much as I do!