Watching 1939: Bachelor Mother (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Bachelor Mother (1939)

Release date:  June 30, 1939

Cast:  Ginger Rogers, David Niven, Charles Coburn, Frank Albertson, E.E. Clive, Ferike Boros, Elbert Coplen Jr., Dennie Moore, June Wilkins

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  Garson Kanin

Plot: Department store work Polly Parish (Rogers) is returning home one day when she finds a baby left on a doorstep. She catches him before he roles off and takes him to a nearby orphanage. No one will believe Polly that it’s not her baby and is forced to take responsibility for the baby. The department store owner’s playboy son, David Merlin (Niven) takes an interest in Polly, and David’s father (Coburn) believes the baby is his grandson.

1939 Notes:
• Ginger Rogers was in three films released in 1939: Bachelor Mother, 5th Ave. Girl, and The Story of Irene and Vernon Castle. “The Story of Irene and Vernon Castle” was Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ last film until 1949. “Bachelor Mother” gave Ginger Rogers a chance to act in films that weren’t musicals with Fred Astaire.
• David Niven was in five films released in 1939. This was a standout leading man role for Niven, who had often been cast in supporting roles. After this film, Niven went home to England to join the RAF.
• Frank Albertson’s only feature film role in 1939.
• One of RKO’s biggest successes of 1939.
• Charles Coburn was in six feature films released in 1939.

Ginger Rogers and David Niven in “Bachelor Mother”

Other trivia: 
• Remade as Bundle of Joy (1956) starring Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher
• Version of the 1935 Austrian film, Kleine Mutti, or “Little Mother.”
• Male leads considered for the film were Cary Grant, James Ellison and Douglas Fairbanks
• The baby, played by Elbert Coplen Jr., was born Aug. 18, 1938.

Baby Elbert Coplen Jr. and Ginger Rogers in “Bachelor Mother”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
To me, “Bachelor Mother” is one of the funniest films of 1939. And outside of laugh out loud moments, it’s also a heartwarming film with tender moments (particularly with the baby).

While this is one of my favorite films of the year, it’s also an important one for the lead actors. “Bachelor Mother” provided both Ginger Rogers and David Niven with breakout roles.

From 1933 to 1939, Ginger Rogers was starring in RKO films with dancing co-star Fred Astaire (with a few other films thrown in like Star at Midnight, In Person, Vivacious Lady). In 1939, Rogers starred in her last film with Astaire — The Story of Irene and Vernon Castle — and the two were not paired again until 1949 in “The Barkleys on Broadway.” “Bachelor Mother” began 10 years of Rogers acting as a leading lady in comedies, dramas and romances, and most of them did not involve dancing.

For David Niven, since his acting career began in 1932, he wasn’t in a prominent leading role. His roles slowly grew from bit parts, like in Dodsworth (1936), to slightly larger secondary (or thirdly?) roles, like in “Four Men and a Prayer” (1938). In 1939, Niven first starred as a supporting character in “Wuthering Heights.” But then “Bachelor Mother” placed Niven in a role he’d never been in before: a romantic leading man. And he stayed a leading man for practically the rest of his career.

While often overlooked, I have to mention Frank Albertson. Albertson is our “antagonist” in a sense, but he’s just so great I almost can’t hate him. Albertson, in general, is an overlooked actor, and this was his only film of 1939.

I would be remiss to review “Bachelor Mother” and not mention the most important actor in the film: Elbert Coplen, Jr. This was Elbert’s only film, but he is such a darling baby in this film. I love to watch actors act with babies because they often do something unpredictable and the adult actor has to go with the flow. An example of that is Ginger Rogers commenting on the baby grabbing her finger. My friend and peer Raquel is a major fan of “Bachelor Mother” and is looking for more information on Elbert Coplen, Jr., if anyone knows anything about Elbert, contact her!

“Bachelor Mother” is also a great holiday-film movie. It begins at Christmas and has a fantastic New Year Eve sequence, complete with a Ginger Rogers fashion make-over, dancing at a nightclub and celebrating in the streets of New York City. I would say “Bachelor Mother” is both a Christmas and New Year’s film!

If you haven’t seen “Bachelor Mother,” you should remedy that quickly. It’s a sweet, feel-good film that shows not all 1939 films have to be serious epics.

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1 thought on “Watching 1939: Bachelor Mother (1939)

  1. Thank you for the heads up regarding the holiday aspects of this film. I watched it years ago and enjoyed it and will look at it again soon. Unfortunately , David Niven has always disinterested me as a leading man type. He was perhaps best cast in the 1946 Ginger Roger’s film “Magnificent Doll”, a patriotic flag waving film in which he plays a believable villain!


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