The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

(USA 1947)

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 (, 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

95 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) C+

Nitrate Picture Show

Little Miss Marker [The Girl in Pawn]

(USA 1934)

Poor Marthy “Marky” Jane (Shirley Temple)—she’s five years old and has no idea what she’s just gotten into. For what seemed a sure bet on a horse race, her father (Edward Earle) leaves her as collateral—a “marker”—with a group of gangsters. He loses his bet and doesn’t come back, leaving cute little Marky, who has a thing for King Arthur, in the hands of Sorrowful Jones (Adolphe Menjou), a bookie, who plans to drop her off at the nearest police station. When Marky serves as an unwitting vehicle to a scam involving the horse of ringleader Big Steve (Adolphe Menjou), Sorrowful has no choice but to keep her around. He enlists the assistance of fellow hoods Regret (Lynne Overman), Sore Toe (Warren Hymer), Benny (Sam Hardy), Canvas Back (John Kelly), and Big Steve’s girlfirend, sassy jazz singer Bangles Carson (Dorothy Dell), in caring for the girl.

Big shock: Marky grows on all of them, softening their hard, criminal hearts with her sweetness and light. Sorrowful reads Marky bedtime stories, pays for a new wardrobe for her that Bangles picks out, and even teaches her how to pray. Bangles sings a duet with Marky—a great number called “Laugh, You Son of a Gun”— and tucks her in at night. Sadly, their rough edges and shady ways soon rub off on Marky, turning her into a “bad girl.” How can they save her innocence?

Little Miss Marker was Temple’s first starring role in a major motion picture, and it was a hit. Despite its dips into heavy handed morality, it’s a cute story that kept me engaged. It’s gritty, bawdy, and maintains a kind of cynical comedy that ultimately pulls at the heartstrings. Translation: it gets sappy at the end. Little Miss Marker reflects its time: it feels like a Prohibition/Depression Era film, which it is (Prohibition ended the year before). Marky is an orphan in the big city, and she works her cuteness to get her from rags to comfort if not necessarily riches. The accents are affected in that overdone, early “talkies” way. Crime and sex are part of the story, and I had the fortune to see it as part of a lecture series during which it was pointed out that the film is rife with undertones of pedophilia. Um, hello: Temple runs around in tiny shorts that nearly expose her cooter, she climbs all over the men and talks to them in a weird manipulative way, and in one scene she coyly removes her underwear beneath a bathrobe in front of Sorrowful before slipping into his bed, leaving him to sleep alone on a chair—with a bad case of blue balls, no doubt. Creepy!

In 1998, the United States Library of Congress deemed Little Miss Marker “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C+