When I saw that Bedtime Story (1941) was playing last week, and that it paired Fredric March with Loretta Young, I knew it was the film I would choose to watch and review. I was so looking forward to watching it! I love the gorgeous and talented Ms Young, particularly in her 1940s films. And after enjoying Fredric March and his comedy performance in Nothing Sacred, I was confident that Bedtime Story, also a comedy, would be fantastic.
Boy was I disappointed! Bedtime Story, unfortunately, falls flat. This film is particularly disappointing because it has sooooooo much potential! A cute base story, two very capable actors in the lead parts, and a supporting cast that includes the humorous Robert Benchley, the lovely Joyce Compton, and the acerbic wit of the fabulous Eve Arden.
How could a film, with all of this going for it, still manage to go wrong?
Well, at the core it really comes down to script and, unfortunately, Mr. March. March does an okay job here—seriously, with a different script his performance level in Bedtime Story probably would have done the film justice. But a script of this caliber, or rather a script so lacking in caliber, really required the amazing comedy talents of someone like Cary Grant, if the film was going to work.
Let’s get to the plotline.
Bedtime Story is about a very successful theater couple, the Drakes. Luke Drake, played by March, is a playwright who writes hit after hit play for his beautiful wife, Jane, played by the stunning Loretta Young. Problems in the marriage arise when Jane decides she is ready to retire from the stage, move to the country, and start a family. Jane and Luke had both agreed to this plan years ago, but after their wild success in the theater, Luke is no longer so keen on retiring.
The big problem is, Jane is Luke’s artistic muse—without her, he can’t seem to write well, or rather, his words just don’t come across so great when acted by any other actress than his wife. So Luke goes to great lengths to manipulate Jane into changing her plans, and to continue with her career.
Jane finds out about his manipulations, decides enough is enough, and goes off to Reno to get a divorce. Luke’s antics continue, with the help of his buddy, Eddie (Robert Benchley). Luke will stop at nothing to get Jane to play the lead in a new play he has written, called Bedtime Story, and does not take her plans to divorce him seriously.
Among Luke’s manipulations, he tries to make Jane jealous by hiring a beautiful blonde actress for a supporting role in the play (Joyce Compton), and eventually decides to fake cast someone totally not right for the dramatic lead part, none other than the vaudeville comedy star Virginia Cole. This is where Eve Arden comes in, YAY! Though the casting of Virginia does make Jane’s blood boil, she still does not budge from her retirement plan. Her six weeks residence in Reno—legally required for the divorce to finalize, are up, and, deciding that Luke won’t ever change, Jane begins seeing her old flame and still ardent admirer, William (Allyn Joslyn). William, incidentally, is completely slimy and unlikeable.
Oh, by the way, during Jane’s six week stay in Reno, Luke drops by, under the pretext of needing help with his script, and takes her for a drive just over the Nevada state line into California. Their car runs out of gas, and they must stop at a gas station/hotel in California and stay for the night. Luke conveniently doesn’t have any cash, so Jane must pay the bill. Do you see another sneaky manipulation here? Yes, Luke has effectively voided Jane’s Reno residency, required for the divorce, by taking her into California, and has physical evidence of this because Jane had to pay the bill! What a sly dog.
More manipulations from Luke—he manages to set William up to get arrested in a house of ill-repute while tricking Jane to come to the theater for a rehearsal of his play, where Luke has convinced Virginia to play a scene really really badly on purpose so Jane will see her atrocious acting and offer to help Virginia by coming on stage to play the scene herself. This will help Virginia see how it’s really done! Then Virginia will act overwhelmed and quit the show, convinced she could never play the role as well as Jane. Wow! What a conniver Luke is, right????!
Just as it looks like his plan is working, and Jane is about to capitulate and agree to “temporarily” play the lead in the play while Luke looks for a permanent replacement, Jane finds out that Luke set William up to get arrested. The rest of his scheme falls apart, and Jane goes off to bail William out of jail and then marries him!
Luke now tries to show the marriage is not legal by hiring two actors, pretending to be lawyers, to question Jane about her Reno stay. In the process, Jane finds her receipt for the California hotel bill and puts two and two together: she actually was not in Reno for a consecutive six weeks, and her new marriage is therefore not valid. But she also discovers that the two “lawyers” are actors hired by Luke, and is so mad she does not bring California receipt to light.
Deep down, Jane knows she does not want to be married to the drab William, and so she hands the California hotel receipt to Emma, a mutual friend of hers and Luke’s. As Luke, Eddie, and Emma are out drinking that night, Luke sees the receipt, and takes it as a cry for help from Jane.
Luke goes to the lobby of the hotel where Jane and William are spending their wedding night. Unable to go up to the room and save Jane, for William has instructed the hotel manager and his lackeys to keep Luke from going up the elevator, Luke manages to find out their room number, and proceeds to use the phone bank in the lobby to make call after call to the hotel staff, in William’s name, complaining that the bathroom has not been cleaned, bed sheets have not been changed, the room has electrical problems, he needs eight chicken dinners, and there is a bug infestation.
So…YES! The cleaning women, the electrician, the room service staff, and the exterminator, all turn up, one after another, interrupting William and Jane’s wedding night. Jane is amused and sure she knows Luke is behind it all, while William is about to bust with frustration at all the interruptions. The final straw comes when Luke manages to convince a group of drunken tourists that there is a craps game up in William and Jane’s room, and the drunks bust in and proceed to party and eat the chicken dinners in Jane and William’s room. William gets knocked out by an angry hotel guest, and Luke, who made his way up to their room, hidden by the group of drunken tourists, whisks Jane away from it all!
Of course, Luke and Jane make up, and because their divorce was void, Jane’s marriage to William is also void, and Jane and Luke are conveniently still married! Jane agrees to do the play, and after the hit opening night, makes a surprising announcement from stage that the play will have a short run, and will “be closed in early spring by an act of God.” Yep, Jane is pregnant! Despite his manipulations, Jane and Luke will, at least temporarily, retire to the country to raise a family as initially planned. THE END.
The plot seems full of potential for great entertainment, right? But did you realize how often I wrote the word “manipulation” after the name “Luke”? It is hard to like a character like Luke who is constantly manipulating to get his way! It is even harder to like this type of character when the script does not help “soften” his self-serving actions. Again, someone with incredible comedy talents, like Cary Grant, could have managed to make this a sympathetic character. Unfortunately, Fredric March just doesn’t have the comedy chops to do this, and the film suffers as a result.
There are several lulls in the film. But every time Eve Arden comes on the screen, the proceedings get a much needed jolt of electric energy! Arden is, as usual, simply amazing. She could probably make just about any line sound clever. Arden’s Virginia Cole is by far the most entertaining character in the film. You will wish she had more screen time! But despite Arden’s amazing performance, you find yourself wondering why on earth her Virginia Cole is willing to waste her time fake-playing a role in a show she knows she will not keep, all so the writer/director of the play can trick his wife into ultimately playing the role…? “A duel role, I play it but I don’t play it,” Virginia says when Luke makes the proposition to her. And Ms Arden delivers this line as only she can! But seriously, what is Virginia’s motivation to help Luke out? Again, weak script brings the film down, and it is a shame.
Loretta Young beauty/fashion side note. Loretta is gorgeous as ever throughout the film! She even manages to be beautiful in a ridiculous Catherine the Great costume, complete with hoop skirt and platinum blonde wig, in her very first scene. Young’s beauty is such that she can even pull off the, for the most part, not so great outfits she wears throughout the film, and the ridiculous nape of the neck Princess Leia buns she sports in most scenes. Maybe others would disagree with me, but I was surprised by so much of her unattractive wardrobe in this film because Loretta in real life was such a fashion plate! (Think about her TV show! This woman knew how to dress.)
Did my description of the last 15 minutes of the film sound entertaining? Starting with Luke entering the hotel lobby and using all the phones to sabotage Jane and William’s wedding night? That’s because IT IS ENTERTAINING! Yes, the last 15 minutes of Bedtime Story are actually quite amazing. The situational comedy here is gold, and March does a good job with his comical requests and facials as he sends all these hotel workers and drunks up to Jane and William’s room. After putting up with the completely unlikeable William the whole film, you are elated to see him finally get what’s coming to him, and Loretta’s reactions to all the goings on are a joy to watch. But is it worth sitting through an hour or so of a not so great film, just for a 15 minute slam-bang finish? Well, probably not, or at least not more than once. I adored the ending of this film, but I don’t think I will watch this one again. Maybe as background ambience while I am cleaning or doing odd-jobs around the house. But I wouldn’t sit down and watch the whole thing though again.
So, watch Bedtime Story if you don’t mind a rather mundane film that has great potential it unfortunately only reaches at the very end.
Have any of you seen Bedtime Story? Did you like it? Do you think the ending is worth sitting through the whole film for?