A very interesting and funny RKO picture, “Bachelor Mother,” came out in 1939 and stars Ginger Rogers as single woman who finds a baby on the doorstep of an orphanage. She picks it up, rings the doorbell and her life suddenly changes because the officials at the orphanage don’t believe the baby isn’t hers. You’d think something like that would be easily cleared up, but they didn’t have DNA tests back then, and anyway, Hollywood’s instant motherhood movies are not very believable.
Nevertheless, Rogers, who plays Polly Parish, ends up taking care of the child through a series of misunderstandings that Polly seems incapable of explaining. Polly works at Merlin’s Department Store at the wind-up Donald Duck counter. She spends 8 hours a day winding up and pitching toy ducks, and dreams of having fun at night dancing at nightclubs. The instant complication of a new baby makes an excellent plot line, particularly since her single motherhood has attracted the attention of David Merlin (David Niven), the store owner’s playboy son. David wants to help any way he can, and can’t understand why Polly keeps wanting to give the baby back to the orphanage.
One of Polly’s colleagues at the department store, a stock clerk named Freddie (Frank Albertson), pursues Polly romantically until he sees the baby. Polly takes the baby to David’s house, leaves him there, and enters a dance contest. By the end of the date, the ambitious Freddie realizes that Polly’s influence with David may help him rise to the rank of floorwalker at the department store. The rest of the film sets up Polly with David as a pseudo family, while the camera focusses on the baby for cute closeups.
I like the camerawork in RKO films; it is usually simple, nicely focussed, clean and effective. The cinematographer, Robert De Grasse, also worked on the film in my previous post, “Born to Kill.” Garson Kanin, who is primarily known as a writer, directed Bachelor Mother. His writing skill is evident in the witty dialogue between Rogers and Niven. Charles Coburn plays David’s stern father, who continuously hopes his son will give up partying and concentrate on building the business. Since the film is a romantic comedy, and Niven and Rogers make a cute couple, it seems highly likely that he gets his wish.
One key scene involves a high-class New Year’s Eve party, where David takes Polly on a last-minute invitation. He dresses her in fancy duds from his department store, including a mink coat, and she instantly wows all the eligible bachelors in attendance. It’s often the working men and women who save the rich from their boredom in these Hollywood fantasies.