Comedy · Musical

The Infatuation Drug

Note: This post is part of the Build-Your-Own Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. Today’s movie connects to Speakeasy’s My Darling Clementine via producer/writer Samuel G. Engel.

Pat Boone (left) counsels Dick Sargent on the ways of l'amour. Image: ebay
Pat Boone (left) counsels Dick Sargent on How to Romance Women. Image: eBay

Maybe young Pat Boone didn’t realize how brave he was.

In the 1957 musical comedy Bernardine, the young singer plays a slick-talking but misguided lothario who dispenses advice like he’s dispensing medicine.

“Misguided” could be too soft a word. In one scene, Boone’s character refers to a friend’s girlfriend by saying, “It belongs to Wilson.” In another scene, he sings about “technique” and how women love it when men are deceitful and neglectful.

Pretty offensive stuff – and would be to women in the 1950s – except for one thing: Boone plays the character with such over-the-top sliminess that you become fascinated by his outrageously stupid worldview.

Bernardine, based on the play by Mary Chase, stars Boone and Dick Sargent as high school seniors who are three weeks away from graduating. But Sargent’s grades are so poor, he may not graduate if he doesn’t pass his final exams. Added to this turmoil is Sargent’s inability to romance girls, despite Boone’s prescriptions.

Sargent and Boone have fantasized about the ultimate dream woman whom they’ve named Bernardine Mudd (of all things). Things get complicated when Sargent meets the beautiful Terry Moore, with whom he becomes instantly smitten. Here’s his real-life Bernardine!

However, final exams loom large, and Sargent is forced to put his romantic life on hold. He must remain sequestered in his house for two weeks to cram. He panics: What if Moore meets someone else in the meantime?!!!!!

During his “captivity”, Sargent is jittery, unfocused, irritable – much like someone going through withdrawal. Love/infatuation is a drug, they say, and Sargent’s character is a first-rate addict.

Terry Moore has her pick of men. Image: ebay
Terry Moore is the object of Dick Sargent’s obsessive affections. Image: eBay

Bernardine is a deceptively clever film. Here we have Boone, a smooth talker who employs a $50-dollar vocabulary and good-naturedly teases his chums. But while Boone winks at his friends, the movie winks at us. Can you believe these morons? the filmmakers seem to say.

Yet this movie is not so light-hearted as it first appears. Janet Gaynor, who plays Sargent’s mother, has a rather preachy lecture about parenting, but offers some thoughtful insights. The ending, too, is surprisingly philosophical, and it’s here Boone and Sargent prove they can really act.

In many ways, producer Samuel G. Engel has created a cliché 1950s teen film, with a handsome pop star singing about love and teenagers clad in wide skirts and sweater vests. But its strong characters and witty script give it a timeless feel, along with the obvious infatuation/pharmaceutical symbolism.

Producer Engel was no dummy. Besides producing and screenwriting, he was President of the Producer’s Guild of America (1955-1958), and lobbied to include short films in the Academy Awards. Before he came to Hollywood, he was a successful businessman who owned a chain of retail outlets in Manhattan.

These retail outlets were drugstores.

Samuel Engel was a pharmacologist by trade, who earned his degree at the Albany College of Pharmacy.

Now, we ask you: Who better to show us that infatuation is a drug? Engel has shrewdly done so with the little-known musical Bernardine.

Bernardine: Pat Boone, Terry Moore, Janet Gaynor. Directed by Henry Levin. Written by Theodore Reeves. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1957, Colour (by DeLuxe), 95 mins.

This post is part of the Build-Your-Own Blogathon hosted by the über chic Classic Film & TV Café. Click HERE to see the other fab entries.

BYOB

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19 thoughts on “The Infatuation Drug

  1. Pat Boone as a slimy character? I haven’t seen BERNADINE, but it sounds like a lot of fun. I always thought that Boone was a likable performer (and I’m a fan of APRIL LOVE with Shirley Jones). As for Terry Moore, she aged remarkably well. In fact, she later posed in the buff for a certain famous magazine at age 55–generating quite a bit of publicity.

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  2. I wandered into this film one day because of Janet Gaynor and have to admit that the excess of Brylcreem made me feel like a shower. Didn’t they know a little dab’ll do ya? A swell post – but why do I feel like a rootbeer float?

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  3. One of the few films I ever saw at a drive-in (in Staten Island, NY) way back as a kid. The only thing I remember about it is the title song. Nice contribution.

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    1. Thanks, John. I started thinking about the last time I went to a drive-in, and I think it was to see Forest Gump many years ago. That may have been the only time… I’m afraid I was too distracted by all the goings-on and had to re-watch the movie later, when it came out on VHS.

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  4. cool choice, never heard of it and now I’m interested, I like the teen movies anyway and this cast is something else. Also interesting about Engel’s background in pharmacology!

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  5. I’ve not seen “Bernadine,” so, because his image was always that of the anti-Elvis, I assumed Pat Boone played a squeaky-clean type in it. What a surprise to finally find out his was the sleazy role! Great post on a very interesting pick for the BYOBlogathon.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, I was surprised to see Pat Boone in this kind of a role, but he alone is worth the price of admission. He has some of the best lines in the movie and is convincing as a slick-talking con man.

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  6. Thanks for selecting this film to review, which I haven’t seen. It was Janet Gaynor’s last film, and she was Adrian’s widow before she married Dick Gregory. I was never a Boone fan, I’m sure this role won’t change my mind.

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  7. I had never heard of this film, so thanks for bringing it to our attention. I’m also surprised that Pat Boone plays the slimy role. You have me curious to see how the movie ends. I also like the analogy regarding love and medicine and would love to see how that plays out. Thanks for the great insights, Ruth!

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