NOTE: Finally, my much-delayed series on Ginger Rogers is here. It took me long enough, right? I’ve always loved Ginger Rogers, and it seemed like a natural progression that, after reviewing all of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers films, to look at the very busy period that followed “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.” These five films released in 1939 and 1940 established her as a star in her own right.
Ginger Rogers was eager for a career on her own. While her films with Fred Astaire catapulted her into the box office top 10 during the 1930s, and she in general enjoyed working on them, Rogers was ready to go it alone.
She had already done just that, albeit briefly, when she and Astaire took a break from their series after “Shall We Dance.” Her three films included co-starring roles in “Vivacious Lady” with James Stewart and “Having Wonderful Time” with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and a major supporting role in “Stage Door” with Katharine Hepburn. It was clear that she was ready for more, but she was re-teamed with Astaire for two more films: “Carefree,” which gave her a chance to show her magical comedic flair, and “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle,” which gave her a more dramatic role to tackle.
When she first received the script for “Bachelor Mother,” Rogers sent a three-page letter of protest to Pan Berman, in charge of production at RKO, feeling the story line was a bit thin. But he reassured her that the main character, Polly Parrish, had enough warmth and humanity and that her fans would enjoy her in the film.
The comedy has a very simple plot. Polly finds out on Christmas Eve that she’s going to be out of work at a department store after Christmas. During the day, she sees a lady leaving a baby on the doorstep of an orphanage and, after the woman runs away, Polly picks up the baby and takes it inside. However, they believe the baby is Polly’s, which she doesn’t realize until after she gives them her name and place of work. When she runs away, they contact the department store, and owner J.B. Merlin (Charles Coburn) tells her she won’t lose her job. Unable to tell the truth despite trying, Polly accepts the job.
Unfortunately, she cannot keep the baby, and on Christmas Eve, while on her way to a dance contest in order to win some money, she drops the baby off at Merlin’s home, where his playboy son, David (David Niven), chases after her with the baby. This causes people to speculate that David is the father of this child.
Sound ridiculous? It really is. Although the story makes it clear that Polly isn’t from the city and has no relatives or close friends there, it still seems strange that her landlady readily accepts that Polly has given birth. Don’t you think the landlady would have noticed if Polly was pregnant? In addition, the holidays are mentioned only when it’s convenient to the plot. Otherwise, they are nonexistent.
But if you can put logic aside, “Bachelor Mother” is actually a fun movie. The screenplay is by Norman Krasna, who would later write “The Devil and Miss Jones” and “Princess O’Rourke,” among others. The director is Garson Kanin, receiving his first A-movie assignment as a director at RKO. Rogers found him lively and fun and full of spontaneity.
If the character of Polly doesn’t ask much of Rogers, she provides plenty of charm and uses her gift for comedy to full advantage. Niven is a fine match for Rogers, and the supporting cast is also having fun.
“Bachelor Mother” was a hit for RKO during that great movie year of 1939. By the time it was released, though, Rogers was already working on her next film, “Fifth Avenue Girl.”