Bachelor in Paradise (1961)

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This marks my first film watched as a new subscriber of Warner Archive’s Instant service! If you’re not familiar, Warner Archive Instant is similar to Netflix in that it gives you digital access to a range of their catalogue of classic movie selections. After a somewhat overwhelming selection process and the truly awful situation of having Too Many amazing movies from which to choose, Bachelor in Paradise, the 1961 Metrocolor comedy starring Bob Hope and Lana Turner, won out. This was a part of Warner Archive Instant’s “On Location: Los Angeles” category, so I was excited to see some vintage Southern California on display, and this certainly delivered.

Bachelor in ParadiseBachelor in Paradise is a very kooky comedy, released at the cusp of the Swinging Sixties, featuring Bob Hope as playboy author A. J. Niles, whose provocative book series delves into the “lifestyles” of various European countries, with a seeming particular focus on how willing and receptive the women are to his advances. As he tells his publisher inquiring on the status of How the French Live, momentarily pulling himself away from the warm embrace of an experienced Frenchwoman, he’s “two weeks ahead on the research… and four months behind on the writing.”

But tax troubles pluck our literary lothario from his idyllic foreign diplomacy work and trap him in the United States until the IRS is satisfied; his publisher suggests he start work on a new book in the mean time: How the Americans Live. So, he’s sent off to a house in the capital of American suburbia, the San Fernando Valley, to begin research on these peculiar American creatures.

And thus, Hope arrives in the titular paradise–Paradise Village, that is, a housing development full of young, married couples and busloads of shrieking children. Hope, as the only single man in the neighborhood, becomes an immediate curiosity, shaking up the buttoned-down community and inspiring fingers to wag. After his first several attempts at flirtation are shut down by his targets’ marital status, he focuses his romantic attentions on the only single woman in the community, Lana Turner, who’s also his landlord. He doesn’t hold back on socializing with the housewives during the day though, and, drawing on his expertise, he gives the neighborhood ladies lessons in cultivating a more… exotic lifestyle while the husbands are off at work. But the changes–new hairstyles, fancier dresses, candles on the table–lead their husbands to erroneously suspect them all of having affairs with Hope.

bachelor-in-paradiseGender relations are depicted in a very interesting fashion here, though, as a goofy comedy, the film doesn’t delve too deeply into questions, or really resolve many of the issues. I loved Paula Prentiss’s character (paired with Jim Hutton for the third of four films in their partnership), and she gets a fascinating scene where she expresses her regret that, despite her college degree, she’s now stuck at home with the kids, gossiping with other wives–even though that’s what she’s supposed to have wanted for her life. The scene is light and not much is made of her confession, but Prentiss plays this moment with a delicate gravity and makes me hope her character got her own happy ending outside the scope of the film. The husbands in the movie are, overall, pretty terrible–the most common problem after Hope’s arrival is: “Help! My wife is too sexy now!” and the husbands’ en masse reaction to this terrible affliction is to divorce their wives, which is just bizarre. Hopefully Hope’s expertises also include matchmaking, because these dudes are awful.

Paradise Village was indeed the real-life Valley–filming took place in Woodland Hills. Dear Old Hollywood has a great rundown of many of the locations used in the film, and while the community is still recognizable in its new form, it’s amazing to see how much that area has changed in the past 50 years. The Paradise Village of 1961 is sparse, but colorful, and almost looks like a set created especially for the movie. It actually reminded me so much of the Florida neighborhood in Edward Scissorhands that I wondered if Valley-native Tim Burton had seen this film as a kid (or maybe even watched it intentionally in researching his similar suburban shakeup).

By the way, much like Holiday Inn (which I’ll be covering tomorrow for Family Friendly Reviews’ Christmas Movie Blogathon), Bachelor in Paradise also inspired a song with, perhaps, a longer lasting legacy than the movie itself. In this case, we have Ann-Margret’s sensual rendition of the title song below. She sang it at the 1962 Oscars very early in her career, and the exposure from the performance helped her get cast in several of her early formative roles. So, to some extent, we have Bachelor in Paradise to thank for Ann-Margret!

Bachelor in Paradise is a charming comedy (if slightly over-long) that is also a great look at the social and sexual mores of the culture at the time. The on-location filming also adds a level of fun to the viewing, as spotting background extras’ fashions, vintage cars, and retro brands in the grocery store all contribute to the vibrant texture of the film, which is utterly and delightfully 1961.

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