To many people, the late Sidney Sheldon is best remembered for the popcorn-ready murder mysteries that clogged The New York Times Bestseller lists in the 80s and 90s. He is, after all, the seventh best-selling author of all time. But for the first 50 years of his life, Sheldon was a screenwriter. (Which explains his subsequent success as an author– to quote Sunset Blvd., he ‘knew all the plots.’) After serving in WWII and a successful stab at Broadway, Sheldon came to MGM where his first big gig was 1947’s The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Shirley Temple.
Originally entitled Suddenly It’s Spring, the title was changed on the young writer at the last minute. Sheldon’s autobiography The Other Side of Me, a rollicking, riotous account of studio-era Hollywood (and a definite must in any film lover’s library) details the interchange between the aspiring young scribe and his legendary producer:
“I’m changing the name,” said David O. Selznick.
I was listening. “What are you going to call it?”
“The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.”
I looked at him a moment thinking he was joking. He was serious.
“David, no one is going to pay money to see a picture called The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer.”
Fortunately it turned out I was wrong.
The film is a screwball comedy about a love triangle between stern-faced judge (Myrna Loy), her precocious younger sister (Shirley Temple) and a handsome bachelor (Cary Grant) whose extreme good looks seem to land him in one pickle after another. When Grant, a painter, gives a, art lecture at a local high school, the entire female population is immediately enamored. Temple is the editor of the school paper and entirely too big for her own britches (pardon, make that ‘the vestments she dons as a concession to the outworn social anachronism’), and makes a conquest of the much older Grant. But she goes too far and breaks into Grant’s apartment, determined to be the subject of one of his paintings. Myrna Loy’s boyfriend (Rudy Valle) just so happens to be the assistant district attorney, and when they find Temple inside the stunned Grant’s apartment, well, things spiral out of control very quickly indeed. After a fistfight and plenty of name-calling, a solution is made: the bachelor will “date” the bobby soxer, under the supervision and approval of the family, in order to wear off her “fatal fascination” with him. Only, Grant’s “fatal fascination” is catching and the stoic Loy soon finds herself fighting back that silly schoolgirl feeling herself … much to Grant’s delight and Temple’s dismay.
As breezy as the film is, the shoot was not an easy one, owing to a rift between Cary Grant and director Irving Reis. Grant wanted Leo McCarey to direct the picture (understandably so, given the director’s successful history with Grant and his own sterling reputation as a comedy director) and a state of constant tension prevailed on set between Grant and Reis. But regardless of the behind-the-scenes bickering, the result was comedic gold, and what’s more, it won Sheldon an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Little wonder why. The script is whip-smart and charges like a runaway locomotive. Chock a block full of witty one-liners and searing side-jabs, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a solid lesson in what has, sadly, become something of a lost art: dialogue. The film’s most famous moment is probably a charming exchange in which Grant, who has been forced to pose as bobby-soxer Shirley Temple’s beau under the jurisdiction of Judge Myrna Loy and psychiatrist Ray Collins, takes on the persona of a gum-chewing, slang spewing high-schooler with his nonsensical teenage hyperbole:
Grant: “You remind me of a man.”
Temple: “What man?”
Grant: “The man with the power.”
Temple: “What power?”
Grant: “The power of Hoodoo.”
Temple: ” Hoo-doo?”
Grant: “You do.”
Temple: “Do what?
Grant: “Remind me of a man!“
(The wordplay was famously revisited by David Bowie in the 80s cult classic Labyrinth… something deserving of its own blog post altogether.)
It is an entirely ridiculous moment, yet altogether delightful, and is really quite a feather in Sidney Sheldon’s cap: it is a highly difficult thing to so tightly knit whimsical fluff and searing wit.
But Sheldon’s true pièce de résistance is the delirious 6 minute climactic confrontation: three separate story lines interweaving, deliciously savoring each others ridiculousness, furiously fast and relentlessly sharp. It’s a superbly layered stretch of dialogue that, for me, is really one of the most adroitly written comedic scenes ever.
Mynra Loy and Cary Grant attempt an innocent evening together to smooth their rocky relationship, only to be busted by Loy’s highly jealous little sister.
It is pure cinematic bliss … if you know how to listen.