Sunday, August 11, 2019
Myrna Watch: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947)
Format: TCM on DVR
I guess it's considered punching down to make fun of high-school kids, especially girls (and right now, I can feel some of you out there tensing your fingers to respond why in the comments), but, I mean, c'mon. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) is a sorta-screwball comedy that hinges entirely on a particular flavor of high schooler who decides they're more sophisticated and mature than all of their classmates, and entangles a swinging post-war playboy-type.
Cary Grant plays an artist who, in the morning is explaining his way of out of a public-disturbance rap in front of a judge played by Myrna Loy and in the afternoon delivers a lecture to a high school auditorium, including the judge's sister - played by Shirley Temple. Temple develops an immediate and all-consuming crush on Grant, and sneaks out and sort of breaks into his apartment. When Grant returns home, just as he discovers a minor in his home, the minor's sister and her Assistant DA beau appear at the door.
As I say - screwball comedy, and detailing it anymore would be exhausting for both you and me.
What's curious is that the movie is that, despite the fact I have a hard time believing much has changed when it comes to high-schoolers deciding they've outpaced their peers and are now "men" or "women" in comparison, I don't think you could have made this movie in the last twenty years. I mean, sure, there's a reason we have To Catch a Predator on TV, and despite the fact this is the inverse of that dynamic, and, in fact, the big gag/ set-up for the second act is a misunderstanding of said teenager sneaking into Grant's apartment, you kinda know everyone would lose their minds about just the set-up of the movie. Which is unfortunate, because this movie is hilarious (and surprisingly progressive vis-a-vis depictions of gender norms for the era).
Honestly, I'm largely in the bag for anything Cary Grant does - his comedic sensibilities were outstanding and have gone largely unreplicated.* And he does some terrific work here, both behind the curve on what's happening and when he gets out ahead of everyone else. But it doesn't hurt to be paired with Myrna Loy, who never saw a line on which she couldn't put just the right spin, whether sorting out the folks standing before her at the bench or sorting out Grant.
While we're more than used to women on the bench in movies and TV these days, in 1947, I'll argue this was an anomaly, but it's never treated as such. We understand she's a type-A, by nature and nurture, and maybe her work and homelife duties have kept her buttoned down, but it's only marginally treated as a deficit, particularly by the psychologist uncle who is more or less just suggesting she could do with something else in her life. More or less the set-up for 85% of rom-coms then or now. Further, she's not just treated with the due respect of a judge (ie: no comments, really, about "the lady judge") it's just not treated as an oddity whatsoever. The comparison between the by-the-letter judge and Grant's free-spirit artists makes for a nifty set-up as the yin and yang approach to a match that you can actually buy.
Of course, this isn't exactly a drama shooting for an Oscar - it's a fun 90 minutes and a reflection of the post WWII-era acknowledgement that teenagers existed as their own age bracket (this was a genuine social phenomenon of the time). The teen experience may be polished and cleaned up for a movie, but it works and in the same era where you did also have films with adults leading a swinging nightlife and were simultaneously seeing kids building a separate subculture, it's a curiosity of a specific window in time and where we were at.
I recalled really liking the dialog in this movie, and I wasn't wrong. It's classic, rapid-fire comedic dialog of the time, where the movie is going to just move at a rapid clip and it's up to the audience to keep up. It's got some terrific scenes that more or less play exactly to my comedic sensibilities, so all I can say is that YMMV. And while I often shrug and say I don't like rom-com's, that isn't exactly true. If I felt today's meet-cute's worked half as well or had a fraction of the banter and spark of this film, I might be much more likely to continue to watch them. But, you know.
*I'll argue Chris Hemsworth could be there, but he tends to play doltish - which is great! - instead of baffled, reasonable person. And, yes, it's unfair when dashing men are also hilarious. But us dashing, hilarious men have to just be who we are.