If there's anything notable about the nostalgic 1950 comedy Father Was A Bachelor, it might be that it typifies the lightweight stuff that William Holden was assigned to before he graduated to meatier likes of Picnic, Stalag 17 and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Indeed, this "orphans play matchmaker" opus came out only a few months before Holden became a floating pool toy in Sunset Boulevard. Gloria Swanson would have to wait, however, for a brief bit of contrived Americana starring a bunch of apple-cheeked orphans.
In the film, Holden plays Johnny Rutledge, a turn-of-the-century singing roustabout who is first seen performing (in blackface, no less) in the traveling show of snake oil salesman Mordecai Ford (Charles Winninger). The two are soon recognized by the local constable (Stuart Erwin) who immediately jails Winninger for prior transgressions. Vowing to help release Winninger, the now jobless Holden decides to pick up his fishing pole and loaf around the local countryside. He comes across a cabin inhabited by five rambunctious children, who are oddly named after months of the year. The oldest, January (Gary Gray), reveals that he and his siblings are recently orphaned. Needing an adult to run the house, they decide to have affable Holden pose as their long-lost uncle.
The youngsters seems happy with Holden, who sings them folk songs and attempts to sew a dress for little May (Mary Jane Saunders). The arrangement arouses the suspicion of the local judge's daughter, Prudence Millett (Colleen Gray), though. They are also low on money, so Holden finds work as a singing waiter. Winninger is released from prison, but Holden decides to stick around both for the kids and his growing attraction to the lovely Prudence. One of the youngsters, February (Billy Gray of Father Knows Best), proves to be a whiz on the harmonica -- prompting a far out plot twist in the effort to get the kid a proper education. A shifty lawyer (Clinton Sunberg) who is in on Holden's ruse, decides to hook the man up with one of his wealthy spinster sisters (Lillian Bronson and Peggy Converse). Holden wins the hand of the aged Adalaide Cassin in a ring toss game, celebrated in an engagement party at film's climax. How will he get out of that pickle?
The unadulterated corn of Father Is a Bachelor seems like a bum deal for William Holden, but he's surprisingly okay as a happy go lucky loafer. The nature of the character suits him well and he has a nice chemistry with Colleen Gray. Where this film goes horribly wrong is in the decision to have him sing. The filmmakers probably intended for Johnny Rutledge to be a kindly folk singer a la the character played by Burl Ives in Walt Disney's similar nostalgia-fest So Dear to My Heart, but Ives could sing and Holden couldn't. Instead, he's dubbed by a contemporary sounding (and uncredited) Perry Como-type crooner. The artificiality of the musical interludes is something that even Holden can't bring himself to doing convincingly. Musical numbers aside, the film is cute even when the plot gets too convoluted for its own good. Special mention goes to the child actors, who are sweet without getting too syrupy. Pint-sized actress Mary Jane Saunders, something of a cross between Margaret O'Brien and Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka, especially excels as the film's Token Adorable Girl.
The picture quality is actually one of the better aspects of this Sony Classics By Request made to order disc. The film, presented in 4:3 aspect ratio, has been sourced from a pristine quality print with a nicely balanced black and white image marred by the occasional white flecks.
Like many m.o.d. titles, Father Is a Bachelor sports a single, serviceable mono soundtrack with no subtitle options.
Just a trailer for the film's reissue, which has seen better days.
At best, Father Is a Bachelor is a mildly entertaining, squeaky clean family comedy (if your family doesn't mind blackface or poorly dubbed crooning). The cast's appeal rises above the chaotic plot and pointless musical interludes. The disc itself is only worth buying if you're a William Holden completist, however. Rent it.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.