'Bachelor Mother' is a charming, funny romp which is surprisingly little known today. This may be in part because it came out in 1939, a year that remains renowned for the number of great and classic movies released, as I mentioned in my review of Gunga Din. Some of the titles from that year included the fore-mentioned Gunga Din, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, Babes In Arms, Good-bye Mr. Chips, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Wuthering Heights, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington... to name a few. It's not surprising that a light, feel-good comedy like 'Bachelor Mother' might get overlooked.
The humour of the plot is based in mistaken identities and false assumptions. Of course, at this time the Hays Code was in effect, so having Ginger Roger's character actually be an unwed mother with an illegitimate child was a big no-no. The makers of 'Bachelor Mother' however, make this limitation work to their advantage, with the false assumptions about Polly- and eventually, David- providing most of the laughs. This is rather ironic, as the underlying premise could just as easily provide the basis for a rather dark drama: child abandonment and the (then) social stigma of unwed motherhood... issues which lend themselves more to tragedy than comedy.
Despite this,'Bachelor Mother' is a delightfully amusing movie, thanks in no small part to Ginger Rogers, who is really great in the starring role of Polly Parrish. Her character's position in life isn't a particularly funny one- she is alone with no family, and has just lost her job, and then she's saddled with a baby which everyone assumes is hers. Ginger Rogers doesn't play the victim, though, and skillfully navigates the various plot points with the same style and grace she shows on the dance floor. And her comedic timing is spot-on as well. Though in a tough spot, Ginger's Polly muddles through her troubles with determination and grit- and an ability to laugh at the situation, which keeps the plot from ever slipping into schmaltz or excessive sentimentality. Whether it's losing her job, finding herself in possession of an unexpected and unwelcome baby, or even passing herself off as a Swedish heiress, Polly handles it all without losing her sense of humour.
Equally amusing and heartwarming, we see Polly go from considering the baby an inconvenience to be gotten rid of as soon as possible, to becoming attached to him, even getting fired up when another mother in the park suggests that her child is more advanced than little Johnny. And in the end, she is ready to sacrifice her job and leave her home to keep the baby.
David Niven is also really good in the role of David Merlin. He plays the carefree man-about-town very well, being what lamentably few- if any- actors are today: debonaire. We also get to see a bit of growth in his character over the course of the movie. At the beginning of the film, David laughs off his father's stern lectures about settling down and not gadding about every night. Then, saddled with baby John while waiting for Polly to come home from a night out dancing, he resembles nothing more than a disapproving father himself as he lectures her on her maternal responsibilities. As he attempts to awaken Polly to her duty as a (he thinks) mother, he actually becomes more responsible himself. As well, Polly's sarcastic humour punctures his somewhat inflated ego, and her down-to-earth common sense and plain speaking shake his rather privileged views of the world and society. Of course, he doesn't change overnight... although attracted to Polly and concerned for Johnny's welfare, he is unused to having to take the needs of a baby into consideration when making social plans, which is why he attempts to distance himself from Polly. He comes around, however, and if I have any slight criticism of the plot, it's that this wraps up a little too quickly and neatly. This, however, is a mere quibble.
'Bachelor Mother' is a whole lot of fun, Ginger Rogers and David Niven have good chemistry together, and their verbal sparring sparkles with wit and humour. Rogers in particular is great in this role, and anyone who is only familiar with her pictures with Fred Astaire should definitely give this film a look. It's a perfect movie for New Years- or any other time, for that matter.