Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Bachelor's Daughters (1946)

THE BACHELOR'S DAUGHTERS is a creative spin on an oft-used movie plot, in which a group of young ladies seeking rich husbands pool resources and pretend to be wealthy themselves.

This film is a United Artists release, but the well-scripted story by writer-director Andrew L. Stone borrows familiar elements from 20th Century-Fox films of the '30s and '40s, including LADIES IN LOVE (1936), THREE BLIND MICE (1938), MOON OVER MIAMI (1941), and THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE (1946). Stone manages to give the story a fresh presentation, and it's especially interesting that, as the title suggests, ultimately romance takes a backseat to the creation of a new family.

Eileen (Gail Russell), Cynthia (Claire Trevor), and Terry (Ann Dvorak) dream of rich husbands or successful careers, as well as the finer things in life, but they're stuck in dead-end jobs working for a department store.

One afternoon the trio decide if they pool their resources they can rent a mansion on Long Island, as well as enough furniture to fill the living room. They talk fellow employee Marta (Jane Wyatt) into coming along in order to share the rent.

Longtime department store employee Molly (Billie Burke), a former silent movie actress, is recruited to pose as the girls' mother, and the crusty store floor walker, Mr. Moody (Adolphe Menjou), reluctantly agrees to be the girls' "father" when persuaded it will be to his financial benefit.

The charade begins, and ironically it's Marta who falls in love and marries almost immediately; her new husband, Schuyler Johnson (Eugene List), has a surprising background. Schuyler's father is ready to disown him, as he wants to be a concert pianist rather than enter the family business. Marta encourages Schuyler to pursue his dream regardless of the financial consequences, and he's thus happy to move into the mansion and become one of the ersatz "family."

Love and troubles both develop for the other girls, but the most significant part of the story is the gradual thawing of Mr. Moody and the relationships he develops with each of the women in his new "family." It's a sweet and touching story which leaves the viewer smiling when it comes to an end.

One of the film's truly unique aspects is the inclusion of pianist Eugene List in the cast, in his only acting role. List's slightly awkward acting actually fits his character and works out fine, and his piano playing is sublime. List's performances underscore the drama in several scenes; in one such sequence, he begins playing MOONLIGHT SONATA for Marta (Wyatt) and then the focus shifts to other characters in a different location, while his playing continues as the background score. In another notable scene, a distressed Eileen (Russell) is dusting the living room as he plays, and the piano underlines her mental torment, emoted without a single word.

Russell is one of my favorite actresses, and I really liked her in this as the sweet but troubled Eileen, who makes a bad decision and then has to cope with the consequences. (Indeed, the film causes the viewer to ponder all of the characters' ethics quite a bit more than is usual for this type of plot. One doesn't really tend to worry about whether the girls' lies are problematic when watching, say, MOON OVER MIAMI.) Trevor plays the most cynical member of the group, while Dvorak plays a singer with career aspirations. Dvorak sang on screen the same year in the Western ABILENE TOWN, and I'd love to know if she was doing her own singing in these films.

Burke almost steals the show as sweet Molly, whose straightforward innocence and kind attentions help crack tough Mr. Moody's shell. Mr. Moody, a lifelong bachelor who pinches pennies till they squeak, finds that eventually he can't help responding to the young ladies who call him "Dad" and "Pop" and genuinely need his help. This is one of my favorite performances by Adolphe Menjou.

John Whitney and Damian O'Flynn play the men involved with Russell and Trevor's characters. Richard Hageman, Gladys Blake, Russell Hicks, Syd Saylor, and Clayton Moore are also in the cast.

The film runs 88 minutes; the story was a bit abrupt in a couple of spots, but I suspect it may have been due to the print I watched.

Andrew L. Stone is interesting, inasmuch as he very often wrote the screenplays for the films he directed; in the case of THE LAST VOYAGE (1960), he even wrote the musical score! Stone films previously reviewed here also include BEDSIDE MANNER (1945), A BLUEPRINT FOR MURDER (1953), and JULIE (1956).

The lone comment at present on IMDb says of THE BACHELOR'S DAUGHTERS, "What a surprise...was amazed how well it holds up. It is a total delight and is a film you should search out." I agree; while I don't want to oversell it, I really liked this movie's style and was charmed.

This movie has been on my viewing wish list for a very long time, and since it's not available on VHS or DVD, I'm indebted to my friend Carrie for making it possible for me to see it! I hope that one day this film will turn up on Turner Classic Movies or be released as a "made on demand" disc. It deserves to be released in a good-looking print and find a wider audience.


Blogger Robby Cress said...

This sounds like a fun film - and what a cast! I always get a kick out of Billie Burke and I can picture her being a scene stealer. Hopefully this film will get some kind of release. Even if it is one of those Netflix films available for streaming, but not on HV.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

You intrigue me. I'd not heard of "The Bachelor's Daughters" before, but it sure goes on that burgeoning list.

12:13 PM  

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