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The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

Cary Grant starred opposite some of Hollywood's most beautiful women over the years — Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, and Joan Fontaine are just a few notables who basked in his cinematic glow. But perhaps none were as fetching as 18-year-old Shirley Temple, whose one turn with Grant gave the screen legend one of his most memorable comic roles. Temple would retire completely from the screen just two years after The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), and even then the apex of her career had been passed. A child star who captured the attentions of American audiences during the Great Depression, Temple actually was among the nation's top box-office draws during the decade, responsible for selling more movie tickets than any other star from the years 1936-38. She had so much natural appeal that she was selected early in her career to appear in the "Our Gang" shorts, a role her family declined after she couldn't secure top billing. She also was slated to star in The Wizard of Oz (1939), although her lack of singing skills eventually caused MGM to go with Judy Garland instead. By the '40s, Temple was no longer a bouncy, tap-dancing, golden-curled tot, making good roles harder to come by. But she did get two wonderful opportunities before departing show business — John Ford cast her in Fort Apache (1948), and she joined the ranks of Cary Grant's leading ladies.

Temple stars in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer as high-school student Susan Turner, a bright young girl whose interests and ambitions change with every passing week. Susan lives with her older sister, Margaret (Myrna Loy), a guardian who couldn't be more different — as a local judge, sensible Margaret runs a law-and-order courtroom and urges her younger sibling to set her personal goals just as rationally. But when painter Richard Nugent (Grant) speaks at Susan's high school, the young girl is immediately infatuated. Taking up pen and paper as the school newspaper's editor, she tries to interview Richard, but the artist soon learns that the teenager's older sister was the same no-nonsense judge he stood before in court that morning. Richard, it seems, is a bit of a playboy, and the night before he found himself in the midst of a scuffle at the Vampire Club, where he knocked a bouncer on the jaw. As far as Richard is concerned, he'd rather have nothing to do with the entire Turner household. But one innocent comment causes Susan to think she should visit Richard's apartment, where she will pose for him. And after a mix-up of colossal proportions, Richard finds himself in the clink for having relations with an underage girl. It's all sorted out in due course, but only after the painter is forced into a bargain he doesn't like: Judge Turner wants him to "date" Susan until her childish infatuation with him has run its course.

*          *          *

It's a sign of the times when the premise for a golden-age Hollywood comedy would be considered almost too dark by today's standards to be remade as a mainstream movie — the running gag of The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is nothing less than underage sex, and it's played for laughs in a manner that raises both grins and eyebrows: "Did you invite her up there to be a model?" Richard's attorney asks. "Oh, I told that to 500 little girls!" is the artist's half-witted reply. And later, Margaret's would-be boyfriend invites Richard to a birthday party for a girl — "She's six!" he announces. What's more, a contemporary film concerning a man in his early 40s dating a high-school student might have a hard time winning audiences over in our current climate — and besides, Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1963) pretty much charted the outer boundaries of uncomfortable, dark humor with similar subject matter. But there is something entirely wholesome about The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. For one, Richard Nugent isn't a pederast, he's merely an artist caught up in a nightmare scenario of false accusations and low-grade blackmail. He's also Cary Grant, and one couldn't ask for a better seal of approval. Actors may display a gift for characterization and range, but movie stars hit the same pitch out of the park every time, and Grant's turn here is boilerplate Archie Leach with his classic double-takes, voluminous exasperation, and penchant for silly pratfalls (the obstacle-course race at the community picnic is vintage Cary at his best). Myrna Loy as the elder Turner sister provides support, both as Grant's foil and eventual love-interest. Temple proves that she likely could have had a substantial film career into her 20s and beyond with a youthful energy that's somehow timeless. And the penultimate scene in the nightclub is legendary — a table for two soon turns into three, five, and then seven people, all bickering at the same time until they leave, one by one, and Grant sits alone, doused with a glass of champagne. For screwball comedy, it's ten minutes that rivals an operatic libretto.

Warner's DVD release of The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a black-and-white source-print that displays some collateral wear but still looks pleasant with excellent low-contrast details, while the DD 1.0 audio is crisp and clear. Supplements include the 1949 Lux Radio Theater broadcast of The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer with Grant and Temple (60 min.), the Tex Avery animated short "Little 'Tinker" (7 min.), and a trailer gallery. Keep-case.
—Robert Wederquist

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