Bachelor in Paradise – 1961

TCM | iMDB

Bachelor in Paradise stars Bob Hope as author A.J. Niles and Lana Turner as real estate executive Rosemary Howard. It was directed by Jack Arnold for MGM in 1961 and is based on the story by Vera Caspary. I’m leaning toward classic comedies at this point in the pandemic, and like Boeing, Boeing in my previous post, this is a light-hearted, mid-century comedy that had the power to make me laugh out loud and forget about things for a couple of hours. It is also filled with glorious mid-century decor, fashion and lifesytles. This movie doesn’t pretend to be a deep, societal observation, but there is an important feminist message here, especially for 1961 I suspect, mostly delivered to us via Bob Hope’s peppy narrating as Niles and Lana Turner’s beautiful, independent intelligence as Rosemary.

Yep, it’s a romantic comedy and it’s a lot of fun.

The opening scene is somewhere in the “south of France.” A.J. Niles is a writer of trashy adult novels who has lived in Paris for years and is currently working on his next book, How The French Live. We first meet him as he’s smooching a pretty girl on his patio in Paris, you know, for research. As he’s kissing her, he stops every few seconds to dictate this “experiment” into a dictaphone.

Thankfully, he’s interrupted by a phone call or this could get boring fast.

It’s Niles’ lawyer, Austin Palfrey (John McGiver) on the phone and he has bad news. It seems that Herman Woppinger, A.J. Niles’s long-time business manager, has fled with all of Niles’ money. Oh, and Woppinger never paid Niles’s income taxes in the 14 years he worked for him either. The IRS found out about that and is demanding payment. Niles is required to go back to the United States, stay there and write another book that will pay off the $624, 470 bill to the IRS.

Niles can’t believe that Herman Woppinger would do this:

“He was always a real stuffed shirt. He had piping in his vest,” A.J. Niles in typical Bob Hope fashion.

Palfrey arranges for Niles to rent a house, he provides money for a secretary for him and gives him an allowance of $85.00 per week while he gets his “distemper shots” and writes his new book, How Americans Live, that will hopefully make enough to pay off the debt to the IRS. Palfrey is urgent about the whole thing and knows he has to demand “observation only,” from Niles to keep him out of more trouble. Sure. At this point it’s clear that Niles is a bachelor who’s obsessed with women.

The rental house is in a suburban Southern California tract development called Paradise Village. It’s run by the ambitious businessman Thomas Jynson (Don Porter) and the stunning Rosemary Howard (Turner).

Niles gets his key and signs the lease under his “Adams” alias (he is a famous author after all, and doesn’t want to be found out) at the developer’s office. Rosemary drives him to the rental house (that she just happens to own, but he doesn’t know this). As the conversation progresses, Niles sees that Rosemary isn’t a pushover or falling for his usual lines. Her strength and independent nature intrigues him, even rattles him a little. He doesn’t faze her at all. Rock on Lana.

Side note: Every time I watch this movie, it’s at this point I’m so distracted by the houses, the cars, the children playing in the street and the yards, the clothes. Everything. It’s mid-century bliss and I feel myself aching to be there.

I even like love the pink mid-century ranch house Niles rents.

“It’s not pink. It’s California Coral,” Rosemary says.

Before he even gets settled in, Niles begins his “research” and starts making friends with his neighbors. He’s the only bachelor in Paradise Village so his presence is recognized. He observes:

“Paradise Valley is the typical American community. It’s completely matriarch and dominated by females,”

While there is sexism spread throughout the story, we’re soon aware that it’s been placed there intentionally to make this one point:  women are the smart, busy managers of life and wIthout them, things would fall apart. A.J. Niles and the husbands prove it.

It’s obvious as soon as he moves into Paradise Village that this self-proclaimed “bachelor for life” needs a woman a whole lot more than he thinks.  Not just for “housewife” things, but everything. Niles can’t even cook a meal for Pete’s sake.

Or operate a washer.

First, we start at the grocery store. Niles’s trouble with accomplishing everyday things women in 1961 were responsible for is expected. And funny. When Niles goes into the store, it’s Mrs. Pickering (Florence Sundstrom) that has to help him get a cart out of the cart corral. It’s Sissy (uncredited role by Tracy Stafford), the neighborhood child who calls herself Mrs. McIntyre, that has to maneuver aisles and displays for him. He can’t find a thing and just messes everything up when left to his own grocery store abilities.

In fairness to him though, why in the world would cartons of eggs be stacked in a grocery cart in the middle of the canned goods aisle?

Niles bumps into Rosemary here too. While they’re discussing a broiler chicken, Mrs. Brown, the resident busy-body, offers Rosemary a petition to sign that would ban all of A.J. Niles’ books from the library. Rosemary declines to sign. While Niles is impressed with Rosemary at that moment, he signs the petition. “It’s proven that anytime a book is petitioned to be banned, its sales skyrocket.” Mrs. Brown is shocked and Niles and Rosemary are impressed with each other.

Paula Prentiss as Linda.

Day after day, Niles gets to know the women of the neighborhood. He “observes” their schedules and how they manage the multitude of things they do. He’s convinced himself, and them, that they’re in a rut and that he’s the man with the answers. Niles even leads well-attended discussion groups with the neighborhood wives in his backyard (“research”). He helps them make decisions that will “spice” up their marriages. The ladies are excited, encouraged and have hope that they haven’t had in a while about getting the attentions of the husbands back.

Janis Paige as Dolores

Dolores Jynson (Janis Page), the developer’s always bored, often drunk wife is the most serious of the women’s stories. She’s out for revenge against her husband because he “is not interested anymore.” Thomas Jynson, her husband and the developer of Paradise Village is the worst of all the husbands and Dolores has gone as far as holding up the development of Paradise Hills, another one of his planned developments, with threats of divorce and alimony just to get his attention.  Like all the other wives, Dolores is actually madly in love with her husband, she just wants him to recognize how important she really is in his life.

It’s when the wives start taking Niles’ suggestions to improve their marriages, and get out of the ruts they think they’re in, that things turn ugly. The husbands are so angry that they eventually sign a petition to throw Niles out of the development. “He’s not a family man anyway, he’s a bachelor.”  They clearly have been taking the wives for granted and aren’t understanding why they’re doing these things that Niles suggests.

Jynson demands that Rosemary throw Niles out of her house. She refuses and he fires her. She immediately goes to work for Niles full-time as that secretary he needed. The movie continues to tell the wives’ stories through Niles and his own tension with Rosemary.  When the husbands finally file for divorce,  (for some reason three of them are happening at the same time in the same courtroom) we see a realization on everyone’s part.

Agnes Morehead as Judge Peterson

Thanks to another smart, independent woman: Judge Peterson (Agnes Morehead). She presides over the courtroom with a firm heart and light humor, keeping everything in perspective. SHE understands what’s going on and the guys are finally getting it. Even Niles.

I love it.

Women in power are all over this movie, whether it be in business or at home, but it’s not preachy as it sends the message. I wonder how audiences reacted to this in 1961? There are a couple of speeches A.J. Niles gives toward the end that make you feel good and proud of all of these women. Overall, the laughter, the love stories, mid-century eye candy and the strong message about intelligent, beautiful, independent women come together to make this movie worthwhile.

A.J. Niles and Rosemary Howard. (Bob Hope and Lana Turner)