Bachelor Mother (1939)

Bachelor Mother (1939)

Directed by Garson Kanin with a screenplay by Norman Krasna this above average romantic comedy earned Felix Jackson his first and only Academy Award nomination for his Original Story. Kanin (with wife Ruth Gordon) and Krasna received Oscar nominations for their own stories and/or screenplays with Krasna talking home the gold for Princess O’Rourke (1943) a film he also directed. This one stars Ginger Rogers in the title role David Niven and Charles Coburn. Rogers plays a department store employee who’s mistaken for the mother of an abandoned (and adorable!) baby. The store is family owned and run by Coburn and his ‘playboy’ son Niven. Through a confluence of events bachelorette Rogers ‘accepts’ the responsibility of raising the baby she names Johnnie (Elbert Coplen Jr.) in order to keep her job at the store. She is assisted in this task by inexperienced caregiver Niven whose father later comes to believe Johnnie is his illegitimate grandchild. Frank Albertson plays another employee who gets in the middle of things. In Rogers’ career this film is her first to follow her last (B&W and for 10 years) with Astaire and falls one year before she’d earn her Best Actress Oscar as Kitty Foyle (1940). The fact that Niven is British (playing an American and Coburn’s son) doesn’t interfere with the story which must have been racy for the time (in that great movie year of 1939). Later remade as the musical Bundle of Joy (1956).

Polly Parrish (Rogers) was hired as a Christmas season employee by the Merlin (named for its owner John played by Coburn) department store. However the three week Christmas rush sales period has ended and Polly receives her notice of termination on Christmas eve morning. During her lunch break that day she visits the Acme employment agency and on the way back sees an older woman leaving a baby on the steps of a foundling agency. After confronting the woman who then hurries away Polly decides to carry the infant inside so that it doesn’t fall down the steps. After giving her name and place of employment Polly explains what happened but the agency’s employees are dubious. Reading their expressions Polly insists that the baby is not hers and rushes out. Back at Merlin’s Polly is approached by a store inventory clerk Freddie Miller (Albertson) who offers her half of a sure $50 prize at a dance contest that night if she’d only agree to be his partner. Needing the money she readily agrees.

The foundling agency’s investigator (Ernest Truex) visits Merlin’s and discovers that Polly has just been let go. So he calls on the store’s management and gets a meeting with David Merlin (Niven) who usually shows up late and/or infrequently at work due to his social life. The investigator believes that Polly abandoned "her" child because she’d lost her job and David who’s instantly concerned summons her to his office. She is surprised to learn that her job has been restored and that she’s to receive a $5/week raise retroactively. She is also promised a Christmas gift which she’s to receive later. At her apartment that evening the investigator arrives with her ‘package’ the baby. He isn’t happen about her attitude she still insists it isn’t hers and doesn’t want it but is able to leave without taking the baby with him after he explains the baby is the reason she’d gotten her job back. When Freddie arrives Polly has an idea – on the way to the dance contest she has him drive her by the Merlin home. Freddie then overhears her as she leaves it with the Merlin’s butler (E.E. Clive) and says "it’s his responsibility". Naturally Freddie gets the wrong idea.

Immediately after Polly departs David learns from the butler what had just transpired. He picks up the baby and with his butler they follow Freddie and Polly to the dance contest. However David is soon thrown out of the dance hall for his behavior while Freddie and Polly are disappointed to win the contest gaining a large trophy in lieu of the $50 they needed. Freddie takes Polly home and tries to advance his affections while David waits inside with the baby where he’s been for 3 hours! Freddie’s belief as to the father of the baby solidified he departs embarrassed in the presence of his employer. After a rather harsh discussion of her circumstances with David Polly decides to admit that the baby is hers and accept the responsibility for raising it. The ‘playboy’ seems to grow up a little too; he’ll help her with Johnnie. After David has left Polly’s (stereotypical Jewish mother) landlord Mrs. Weiss (Ferike Boros) comes by and tells Polly that she would be happy to help e.g. take the baby while Polly works at Merlin’s during the day.

The next day Freddie asks Polly to "wink wink use her influence" to get him a better job as a floor manager. It must be kismet because without Polly doing anything Freddie is promoted within minutes after he sees David visiting Polly’s sales counter. She sells various Donald Duck toys: some are stuffed; some walk some quack some do both. Later David shows up at Polly’s apartment to help her with the baby. He’s brought a book from some expert and proceeds to read some nonsense about how to feed it. He also breaks a toy duck but promises to return it for a replacement the next day. Polly laughs telling him that you can’t return anything at Merlin’s. As the executive second only to his father David insists that he can. But the next day dressed with sunglasses and an overcoat David learns otherwise at the exchange window (Irving Bacon uncredited). Upset he goes to the sales counter where he breaks several of the ducks before he puts a working one in his pocket. Of course Freddie sees this and tackles him before he sees who he’s just accosted. Naturally David demotes him back to his old job (though later it appears Freddie was fired).

For revenge Freddie decides to write a note to David’s father telling him he’s a grandfather. So John has his chauffeur follow David who rendezvous’s with Polly and Johnnie in the park. The previous evening New Year’s Eve David had been stood up by his regular girlfriend Louise (June Wilkins) he’d been neglecting per helping Polly. So he knew where to find a replacement date a woman who would be at home after 8 O’clock on New Year’s Eve in Polly. While Mrs. Weiss watched Johnnie Polly and David had a wonderful evening together. So that Polly wouldn’t be embarrassed around David’s more sophisticated friends he tells them that Polly only speaks Swedish. She then dances the night away (Reed Hadley looking a lot like Victor Mature appears uncredited as her first dance partner) while David sits and she misses dinner. Because she’s hungry they leave early but not before Polly gets an opportunity to hilariously insult Louise. At the stroke of midnight in all the holiday celebrating David and Polly share their first kiss a particularly long one. So that next day in the park after a brief "my baby’s ‘better’ than yours" contest between Polly David and a married couple with their baby John finds them. He sees a resemblance (that’s not genetically there) and learns the baby’s name is Johnnie which in his mind confirms that he’s holding his grandson. After John’s left Polly and David both simultaneously figure out why John’s father had been teary eyed. While David chases after his father Polly laughs because David is now in the same predicament that she was regarding the baby’s mistaken parentage.

*** SPOILERS ***

When Polly learns from David that his father will use lawyers to gain custody of Johnnie she discusses it with Mrs. Weiss who suggests that her son Jerome (Leonard Penn) pretend to be the father. Meanwhile David has tracked down Freddie and convinces him to do the same. Hence at the Merlin home right after Polly and Jerome have all but convinced John that the baby is theirs David arrives with Freddie to ruin the ruse. While David attacks Jerome for abandoning (and allegedly beating) Polly she escapes home intending on running away with Johnnie. Mrs. Weiss is able to forestall the Merlins for a short while before the predictable (yet satisfying) conclusion: David proposes to Polly and then admits like she had to his father that the baby is his.

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1 Comment on Bachelor Mother (1939)

  1. My old VCR ran out of tape and I missed the very ending at gramp’s house when David was blaming Jerome for beating then walking out on Polly. The ending I had to make up in my head was this– the old lady who left the baby on the doorstep walks into the room with her husband, their chauffer to wish happy holidays. Polly says I know you from somewhere, and David stands red-faced in the corner. As it unravels, it turns out that David had an affair with the chauffer’s daughter, the daughter died of appendicitis, grandma could no longer take care of the baby, and David never knew he was a father, much less the father of this baby. The WHOLE truth comes out and they all rush to Mrs. Weiss’s to join the baby. Yes, a proposal to marry–AND this way baby Johnny is, minus any deception, has his REAL father, two grandpas and a grandma! That’s how I thought it was going to end, is it better? Call me to tie up loose strings in your screenplays!

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