Ginger Rogers’ Surprise Baby

Ginger Rogers David Niven Bachelor Mother RKO Pictures 1939

Bachelor David Niven shows Ginger Rogers the proper way feed a baby.

They say 1939 was Hollywood’s best year. The Golden Year, they call it.

Some real heavyweights were released in 1939, such as Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach and The Wizard of Oz. That’s quite a roster!

But there were some other, lesser-known movies released that year which, by themselves, still would have made 1939 a glorious year.

Take RKO’s comedy, Bachelor Mother. This delightful movie, starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven, is about a young, single woman struggling to pay the rent in the big city. On the day her boss hands her a lay-off notice, she stumbles upon an abandoned baby. Everyone assumes the baby is hers and convinces her to keep it, despite her loud and rigorous protests.

Yes, this is a ridiculous premise for a movie. Yes, this sort of thing would never happen today, and it likely never happened in 1939, either.

But who cares! There are so many great situations to explore and Bachelor Mother does not disappoint. We ourselves consider it to be one of the funniest movies ever made.

One of the reasons this movie is so amusing is the great Charles Coburn. He’s a professional scene stealer, but it’s easy when you have all the best lines. Check this out: Coburn, who plays Niven’s father, says, “I was young once, like you. I lived like you, looked like you. Then suddenly – overnight – I looked like this.”

We love the scene of a heated breakfast-table argument between Coburn and Niven, where a well-meaning butler keeps interrupting and Coburn keeps slamming – and losing – his spoon on the table.

This is not a movie of dramatic, thought-provoking performances; it’s light and breezy and extremely well done. Niven is everything you expect him to be – suave, articulate, rich. Rogers, as a hapless department store employee, is credible as a bewildered woman who suddenly has a baby thrust upon her. And that baby! He is one of the cutest, chunkiest babies on film.

Bachelor Mother is not usually considered a holiday movie, even though it takes place during the holiday season. But do yourself a favour and try to set aside time to enjoy it. You’ll find yourself quoting Charles Coburn’s lines days later.

Starring Ginger Rogers, David Niven and Charles Coburn. Directed by Garson Kanin. Written by Norman Krasna. RKO Radio Pictures, B&W, 1939, 82 mins.

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24 comments

  1. “On the day her boss hands her a lay-off notice, she stumbles upon an abandoned baby. Everyone assumes the baby is hers and convinces her to keep it, despite her loud and rigorous protests.

    Yes, this is a ridiculous premise for a movie. Yes, this sort of thing would never happen today, and it likely never happened in 1939, either.”

    It may not happen like that, but I feel that the modern twist on this would be a woman being pressured by her family and friends to have a baby, even if she had no interest in children. But she’s too into her career and pursuing her own interests! I’m sure if this were a movie, the woman would end up becoming pregnant, having the baby and falling in love with it, and learning the error of her “childless” ways.

    Sigh.

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    1. You’re right, Stephen, this is a nearly perfect movie. I’ve seen it about 10 times and could see it many times again… Sadly, I’ve not been able to find this on DVD. Have you noticed it anywhere?

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  2. Sweet commentary – I agree with everything! I never tire of seeing this movie either and Coburn is my favorite. Love the line you quoted about “now I look like this.” Does happen fast, dammit!

    Aurora

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  3. Great choice! I’ve always thought this was one of Ginger’s best films (especially without Fred). It’s still fresh and funny. I think it was remade as BUNDLE OF JOY, starring Debbie Reynolds and then-husband Eddie Fisher.And you’re right, Charles Coburn was a supreme scene-stealer.

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  4. I’m not familiar with this movie and I’m surprised by that. On the plus side, I’m on a trial period with Nefflix and I see a download coming up very soon. This sounds like a perfect movie for this time of year, with the wind howling and a light snow in the forecast. Thanks for the heads-up. Now, where’s my cocoa? :)

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  5. I’ve always loved this movie, and catch it on television whenever it is on. Ginger is at her most appealing here, Charles Coburn is always the best thing in all of his movies, and David Niven…well, he still makes me swoon a little (no matter how many performances I have seen of his).

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  6. I saw this film recently and really enjoyed it – Rogers and Niven are both great fun, but I’d have to agree that Coburn steals every scene he appears in! Unfortunately, the region 2/UK DVD of this I bought (a double set issued by Universal, also featuring ‘The Major and the Minor’) turned out to be a colourised version of ‘Bachelor Mother’, even though the cover claims the movie is black and white – it’s so worth avoiding that release.

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    1. *Gasp* They colorized “Bachelor Mother”?! Oh dear. I’m sad to hear that you ended up with that version… My big problem with colorization is that I spend the whole movie wondering how it would look in black & white.

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