“Bedtime Story” is a charming romantic romp that was the third of a three-picture deal that Loretta Young had with Columbia Pictures.
As I mentioned in my review of “The Doctor Takes a Wife” a few weeks back, Young had refused to extend her contract at 20th Century Fox and became a freelance artist. But her agent, Myron Selznick, confirmed that the major studios were steering clear of her in a gentleman’s agreement with Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck, whom they did not want to cross. Columbia’s Harry Cohn, who loved a bargain, did sign Young at half her price, and the deal kept her working.
While the three movies she made at Columbia may not be classics, they are solid romantic comedies that proved Young’s worth in the marketplace among fans. With “Bedtime Story,” she was paired with the terrific Fredric March, and the two are perfectly matched in this story of a playwright, Luke Drake (March), who refuses to believe that his wife and stage actress, Jane (Young), is ready to retire. Even on the night of Jane’s final performance, a preoccupied Luke announces at her retirement dinner that he’s created his next masterpiece, perfect for Jane. When she reminds him that they bought a home in the country specifically for retirement, he replies that he sold it to finance the new production.
An incensed Jane decides to go to Reno for a divorce, all while a disbelieving and scheming Luke attempts to win her back – and get her to play the lead in his next play.
Columbia had so much faith in this film that it was the studio’s big Christmas day release in 1941. The down side is that it was just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entering World War II. The initial mood of the country was somber, but as 1942 began, it became clear that films like this were a perfect escape from reality, and this film ultimately did well enough for Columbia.
Unfortunate, Young and Cohn had a falling out during the making of this film. According to the book “King Cohn,” Young was allowed to select a gown for a particular scene on her own. The base price was $155, but the designer suggested about $400 in changes. The total cost was not unreasonable, but Cohn saw the initial price of $155 and thought Young was trying to make money off of the deal by claiming there were changes. He removed her top billing (which March had generously given her) and refused to allow her to wear the dress. In retaliation, she worked with the studio seamstress on the dress after hours, meaning overtime pay, and ordered unnecessary changes so that the ultimate cost of the dress was in the thousands! Many years later, Young apologized to Cohn for her behavior, which he accepted, and while Cohn wanted her to make another movie for him, it never happened.
It’s worth noting that Young looks stunning throughout this film. She and March had wonderful chemistry together, and I believe it’s the only time the two worked together, which is a shame. I have been a huge fan of the versatile March for many years, and it’s amazing to watch him play a character who can be so unappealing and yet he manages to make us all like Luke and root for him to win back Jane.
The fine supporting cast includes Robert Benchley; Allyn Joslyn, a delight as Jane’s snooty, buffoonish admirer William Dudley (how funny to hear Young refer to “Dudley” when that was the name of Cary Grant’s character in “The Bishop’s Wife” made several years later); Eve Arden, wonderful as Virginia Cole; and Helen Westley in one of her last screen appearances.
Young’s tenure at Columbia was fairly brief. Oddly enough, she did make a fourth film there, “A Night to Remember,” for producer Sam Bischoff, which is not mentioned in “King Cohn” nor in a few other books I use for research. Bischoff operated much like George Stevens did when he was at Columbia, which was with no interference from Cohn. It also may have been an oversight from Thomas. Regardless, whatever gentlemen’s agreement was in place before Young signed with Columbia, she had no difficulty finding steady work after leaving the studio and continued to produce some fine work throughout the rest of the decade.
“Bedtime Story” is a thoroughly enjoyable film thanks in large part to Young and March. If the story grows more improbable as the ending nears, the stars keep everything lively and fun.