The name Sidney Sheldon might be more memorable to some for the popcorn-ready murder mysteries that clogged The New York Times Bestseller lists in the 80s and 90s. He is, after all, the sixth best-selling author of all time. But for the first 50 years of his life, Sheldon was a screenwriter. (Which explains his subsequent success as an author– to quote Sunset Blvd., he “knew all the plots.”) After serving in WWII and a successful stab at Broadway, Sheldon came to MGM where his first big gig was 1947’s The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
Originally entitled Suddenly It’s Spring, the title was changed on the young writer at the last minute. From Sheldon’s autobiography The Other Side of Me:
“I’m changing the name,” said David O. Selznick.
I was listening. “What are you going to call it?”
“The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.”
I looked at him a moment thinking he was joking. He was serious.
“David, no one is going to pay money to see a picture called The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer.”
Fortunately it turned out I was wrong.
(By the way, The Other Side of Me, is a rollicking, riotous account of studio-era Hollywood, and a definite must in any film lover’s library.)
The film is a screwball comedy about a hilarious love triangle between an older sister (Myrna Loy), a younger sister (Shirley Temple) and a hapless handsome bachelor (Cary Grant). The shoot was not an easy one, owing to a rift between Cary Grant and director Irving Reis. Grant wanted Leo McCarey to direct the picture (understandably so, given McCarey’s history with Grant and his sterling reputation) and a state of constant tension prevailed on set between Grant and Reis. But the result was gold, and what’s more, it won Sheldon an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Little wonder why.
The script is whip-smart and charges like a runaway locomotive. Chock a block full of witty one-liners and searing side-jabs, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a solid lesson in what has, sadly, become something of a lost art: dialogue.
The film’s most famous moment is probably a charming exchange in which Grant, who has been forced to pose as bobby-soxer Shirley Temple’s beau under the jurisdiction of Judge Myrna Loy and psychiatrist Ray Collins, takes on the persona of a gum-chewing, slang spewing high-schooler with his nonsensical teenage hyperbole:
Grant: “You remind me of a man.”
Temple: “What man?”
Grant: “The man with the power.”
Temple: “What power?”
Grant: “The power of Hoodoo.”
Temple: ” Who do?”
Grant: “You do.”
Temple: “Do what?
Grant: “Remind me of a man!”
(Immortally revisited by David Bowie in the 80s cult classic Labyrinth… something deserving of its own blog post altogether.)
It is an entirely ridiculous moment, yet altogether delightful, and is really quite a feather in Sidney Sheldon’s cap: not everyone has the terribly shrewd ability to so closely knit fluffy whimsy with striking wit.
But for me, the piece de resistance is the delirious 6 minute confrontation at the climax of the film: three separate story lines interweaving, deliciously savoring each others ridiculousness, furiously fast and relentlessly sharp. It’s a superbly layered stretch of dialogue that, for me, is really one of the most finely written comedic scenes ever.
Mynra Loy and Cary Grant attempt an innocent evening together to smooth their rocky relationship, only to be busted by Loy’s highly jealous little sister.
It is pure cinematic bliss… if you know how to listen.
4 thoughts on “Sidney Sheldon, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, and the Lost Art of Dialogue”
I’ve never understood why Shirley Temple’s childhood stardom didn’t carry over to her adult career. Actually, I’m not a fan of her films or her as a child, but at the risk of sounding like “Creepy Old Guy,” I’ve always thought she matured into a rather hot teen/young woman. I guess not enough of the audience back then felt the same way . . . maybe that was a good thing !
Ah Gene– how I adore your honesty. And, even a red blooded female like myself must admit: YES. Little miss Shirley grew up to be a hell of a hot number! Love that gorgeous frock she’s got when she shows up at Dickie’s apartment. Declaring with that upturned nose of hers “I’m SEVENTEEN.” Vixen!! 🙂
This is a fun film. I like the scene at the basketball game where we get to see the inside of the Beverly Hills High School “Swim Gym,” the same one seen in It’s a Wonderful Life. Dig the new look of the site too!