Bachelor Mother (1939)


BACHELOR MOTHER (aka: Little Mother), (aka: Nobody’s Wife) (aka: She Said I Do)

(director: Garson Kanin; screenwriters: Norman Krasna/based on a story by Felix Jackson; cinematographer: Robert de Grasse; editor: Henry Berman; music: Roy Webb; cast: Ginger Rogers (Polly Parrish), David Niven (David Merlin), Charles Coburn (J.B. Merlin), Frank Albertson (Freddie Miller), E.E. Clive (Butler), Elbert Coplen, Jr. (Johnnie), Ferike Boros (Mrs. Weiss), Leonard Penn (Jerry Weiss), June Wilkins (Louise), Ernest Truex (Investigator from Atkins Foundling Home); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: B.G. DeSylva/Pandro S. Berman; RKO; 1939)

“Makes the most of a misunderstanding over maternity.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Marks Ginger Rogers’s first solo part after ten films together with Fred Astaire and it also marks the future Scottish-born star David Niven’s first crack as a romantic comedy star. Garson Kanin (“My Favorite Wife”/Tom, Dick and Harry”/”The Great Man Votes”) helms this slightly risque pre-Code screwball comedy/romance (broaching the then tabu subject of unwed moms). It’s based on a story by Felix Jackson and written by Norman Krasna, who makes the most of a misunderstanding over maternity. Bundle of Joy (1956) was a lame remake with Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.

It’s the Christmas season in New York City, and seasonal department-store clerk Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers) receives her discharge notice. While paying a visit to the unemployment office she spots an elderly lady dumping a baby boy on the steps of a foundling home and fearful the baby will take a tumble brings the infant inside, where the knuckle-headed workers refuse to believe that it’s not her child. When they discover she’s been canned, they figure that’s the reason for her action and a foundling investigator (Ernest Truex) visits the department store. He contacts the son of the owner, David Merlin (David Niven), who rehires Polly with a raise of $5/week and that evening the foundling home delivers the baby to Polly’s apartment as a Christmas gift. Unable to give the child back to the foundling home, Polly dumps it on playboy David. He assumes that it’s her unwanted child and in his efforts to persuade her to keep it, gets to know her. He falls in love with her when he takes her to a society New Year’s Eve ball and sees she’s got more class than the society babes he’s been dating.

David’s befuddled father, John B. Merlin (Charles Coburn), learns that his son fathered a child and instead of getting angry, welcomes the news that he’s a grandfather. When told the father might also be Polly’s landlady’s son (Leonard Penn) or his department-store stockboy (Frank Albertson), he only says “I don’t care who’s the father… I’m the grandfather!” Things get settled in an adult fairy-tale Cinderella way when the dashing and wealthy Prince Charming, David, proposes to the working-class girl.

The unbelievable story (it had no “dramatic honesty”) got through its far-reaching premise by excellent pacing, the actors sending off the right amount of conviction and sparks for such a silly comedy, and how blithely it carries off its extravagances and how warmly are the loose characters perceived.


REVIEWED ON 12/21/2008 GRADE: B-