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.