Sidney Sheldon, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, and the Lost Art of Dialogue

Opposites Attract: Myrna Loy and Cary Grant

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.

Charade (1962)

"How do you shave in there?"

This film is a fine bottle of 1962 French romantic-comedy that has aged with the same charm and class as its lead characters. From the opening titles, you know you’ve got yourself a winner: directed by Stanley Donen, music by Henry Mancini, title cards by Bruce Binder, Audrey in Givenchy. A real 90-pointer.

Grant and Hepburn, just minutes into the film, are in top form. Hepburn, spunky, witty and wonderfully dressed in Givenchy couture, is a natural alongside the tongue-in-cheek, been-there-done-that, gray-haired Grant.

It’s sexy, stylish, smart, and in the words of one film critic, the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made.

The script itself is solid enough, but what absolutely sells the film is the Hepburn/Grant chemistry and a memorable roster of strong character actors. Most notably, a glib Walter Matthau and a remarkably young James Coburn as a wise-cracking Texan crook. “She bat them long lashes at you,” he  tells Grant, in laughing derision, “and you fell for it like an egg from a tall chicken.”

That, for the record, is flipping hilarious.

As is the film. Quick, black comedy is smartly woven seamlessly between the action, successfully toeing the line between farce and action/drama. The likeably smarmy Matthau fires out the one liners (“last time i sent out a tie, only the spot came back”) while Hepburn and Grant make marvelous sparring partners (“how do you shave in there,” she quips of his famous dimpled chin, while he answers each query about the roster of women in his life with the anecdote  “yes, but we’re divorced”).

We laugh, a lot, but are entirely invested into the plot at hand. An accomplishment owing much to Donen’s deployment of such Hitchcockian elements as Red Herrings (the Matthau and Grant characters) and Maguffins (an elusive $250,000.)

Bottom line: Charade is a deliciously versatile film, an exercise chemistry, comedy and contextual sex, which one can enjoy either over dry martinis with serious film friends or over hot-buttered popcorn with your pajama-clad gal pals.

December 1960: Screen Spotlight Magazine

I was perusing the hallowed halls of the Larry Edmunds Cinema bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard the other day and had to take this copy of Screen Spotlight magazine home with me. Dated December 1960, it features an in-the-pink Sandra Dee opposite the eternally sexy Cary Grant (kinda wish they had done a film together!). The article inside discusses the May-December romances of everyone from Bogey and Bacall to Kirk Douglas and Pier Angeli (news to me, on that one).

If nothing else, it’s simply further proof that the more things change … the more they stay the same.

Screen Spotlight, December 1960

How to age gracefully, by cary grant

By golly, if Archie Leach from Bristol didn’t write the book on how to age gracefully then no one has. Superhuman genes aside, Cary Grant is the supreme champion of the subtle art of aging, proving the simple truth of Mark Twain‘s words: aging is mind over matter–if you don’t mind then it doesn’t matter.

And, in Cary’s case, even if he did mind, lord knows it truly didn’t matter.

The Many Faces of Cary (he reminds us of a man... 😉