Richard “Dick” Nugent (Cary Grant) is a dashing, self-absorbed playboy charged with inciting a brawl at a nightclub. A self-employed artist, he shows up late for his hearing before priggish Judge Margaret Turner (Myrna Loy), who’s put off by his casual indifference. Nevertheless, she dismisses the case when she sees that the whole thing started with two floozies (Veda Ann Borg and Carol Hughes) fighting over him. With a slam of her gavel and an eyeroll, she sends Dick on his way, warning him to watch himself.
A free man, Dick heads straight to his next appointment: he’s the guest lecturn at a high school where Margaret’s dramatic 17-year-old sister, Susan (Shirley Temple), is a student. She attends the lecture, and is immediately smitten. Susan approaches Dick afterward and offers to, err, model for him. He’s noncommittal, clearly unaware that he’s dealing with a determined gal.
That evening, Susan gets all dolled up and sneaks out to Dick’s apartment, a spacious two-story downtown suite I’d kill to have. He’s not home, but she persuades the young doorman (Ian Bernard?) to let her up so she can wait for him. Naturally, she falls asleep on the davenport.
A big misunderstanding leads to Dick punching Margaret’s date, district attorney Tommy Chamberlain (Rudy Vallee), when they show up at his apartment to rescue Susan soon after he gets home and discovers her there. Dick is sent to the slammer, where court psychiatrist Dr. Matt Beemish (Ray Collins)—Margaret and Susan’s uncle—figures out what’s up. The good doctor proposes a “simple” solution: Dick agrees to date Susan, Margaret agrees to allow Susan to date Dick until her infatuation runs its course, and Tommy agrees to drop the assault charge. All three grudgingly agree to the plan. Hilarity ensues, especially as Dick and Margaret start digging each other—and Susan proves to be a real pain in the ass.
Penned by future TV creator/writer Sidney Sheldon (The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, and Hart to Hart), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a solid textbook screwball comedy. It actually feels like a sitcom. Sheldon won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for this (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1948), and I can see why: his script is light and fun, capitalizing on the generation gap between youth culture and, I guess, middle age. I doubt the story would fly today; the whole premise reads as creepy by 21st Century standards. For a more innocent time, though, it totally works. And it’s amusing.
Director Irving Reis straddles the line between silly and ridiculous without going overboard. Grant, Loy, and Temple all have better work under their belt, but each still gives a memorable performance here even if their characters and this fluffy film are forgettable. I heard some grumbling from others in the audience, but I enjoyed this for what it is—and it ain’t Citizen Kane.
One final word about the nitrate print I saw: it was stunning, exceeding my expectations. I had my doubts that black and white film would make me sing the praises of nitrate, but The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer made me a believer; the whites were luminescent and the blacks and greys were deep and complex. Lovely!
With Lillian Randolph, Harry Davenport, Johnny Sands, Don Beddoe, Dan Tobin, Ransom Sherman, William Bakewell, Irving Bacon, Dore Schary
Production: RKO Radio Pictures, Vanguard Films
Distribution: RKO Radio Pictures
(Dryden Theatre) C+
Nitrate Picture Show