Monday, February 08, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Father is a Bachelor (1950)

FATHER IS A BACHELOR is a minor but pleasant family movie starring William Holden in the title role.

Johnny Rutledge (Holden) is a wandering minstrel show performer circa 1900. He meets five orphaned children struggling to survive on their own and stay together, and he gradually becomes so involved with them that he comes to consider the children his own. Bit by bit he gives up his independence to buy the children food, clothing, and shoes and to see they receive an education and, in one case, musical training. There are bumps along the way, but it's not hard to predict a happy fadeout for Johnny, the children, and lovely Miss Prudence (Coleen Gray).

There are some charming moments as the children entwine themselves around Johnny's heart, including a couple of low-key musical numbers with Johnny and the children singing together.

There are also a couple of annoying subplots, one involving Johnny being blackmailed to become engaged to a wealthy spinster; and Johnny's minstrel show colleague (Charles Winninger), who attempts to entice Johnny back to the open road, is simply a bore. If the movie had excised the blackmail plot and been a bit shorter it would have made a better film.

This was Holden's last film before SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) changed the trajectory of his career. Throughout the '40s Holden starred in a variety of films; some of his '40s movies, such as APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948) and RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948), were quite good, but starting with SUNSET BOULEVARD Holden starred in a rather remarkable string of classic movies throughout the 1950s. Holden's '50s films included BORN YESTERDAY (1950), STALAG 17 (1953), SABRINA (1954), EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954), THE COUNTRY GIRL (1954), THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI (1954), LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING (1955), PICNIC (1955), and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957).

Holden sings a number of songs in the movie; his voice was believably dubbed by Buddy Clark, who unfortunately died in an airplane accident in 1949. Clark voiced the role of the Master of Ceremonies in Disney's MELODY TIME (1948).

The performances of the child actors are quite good, which helps to elevate the film above its somewhat treacly script. Mary Jane Saunders (A WOMAN OF DISTINCTION) plays May, the youngest of the five children, and she's genuinely cute and touching. Her brothers are played by two real-life sets of brothers: Gary Gray (who played Holden's son in RACHEL AND THE STRANGER) and his brother Billy (FATHER KNOWS BEST) and twins Wayne and Warren Farlow. The Grays have the most screen time of the brothers, and they both do a fine job. Gary plays the oldest boy who has been keeping secret the knowledge that his parents died in a riverboat accident, and Billy plays the quiet brother with a gift for music.

There are a couple nice performances in the supporting cast. Arthur Space, one of my favorite character actors, plays the kindly storekeeper, Mr. Staley, and Stuart Erwin is the understanding constable. Lloyd Corrigan plays Miss Prudence's father, the town judge. Tommy Ivo does a good job as the son of the wealthiest man in town.

FATHER IS A BACHELOR was directed by Abby Berlin and Norman Foster. Foster had previously directed Holden in the excellent RACHEL AND THE STRANGER.

The film was based on a story by James Edward Grant, who cowrote the screenplay. Grant wrote many John Wayne films, including ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947), BIG JIM MCLAIN (1952), HONDO (1953), and the Wayne-produced BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY (1951). THE LAST WAGON (1956) was a particularly enjoyable Richard Widmark Western written by Grant.

The movie runs 83 minutes and was shot in black and white. It does not appear to have ever had a VHS or DVD release, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. Update: FATHER IS A BACHELOR is now available on DVD-R from Sony/Columbia.

William Holden movies previously reviewed include MEET THE STEWARTS (1942), UNION STATION (1950), SUBMARINE COMMAND (1951), and ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953).


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