|Reviews & Columns|
TV on DVD
Reviews by Studio
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
The M.O.D. Squad
DVD Talk Forum
DVD Price Search|
Customer Service #'s
Bedtime for Bonzo
Like the Disney pictures, Bedtime for Bonzo takes place in a kind of Anytown, U.S.A., brought to generic life on the studio backlot. At Sheridan College, Dean Tillinghast (Herbert Heyes, in the Joe Flynn role) learns that daughter Valerie's (Lucille Barkley) future husband, psychology professor Peter Boyd (Reagan), is the son of an infamous career criminal. Fearing that criminal tendencies may be hereditary, the Dean refuses to consent to their marriage.
But after rescuing Bonzo (Bonzo), a lab chimpanzee entrusted to Professor Neumann (Walter Slezak), Peter is inspired to conduct an elaborate experiment: raise Bonzo at home, like a small child, and prove that it's possible to teach "the difference between right and wrong." How this would disprove the Dean's notions about hereditary influences is unclear - it's not as if Bonzo's father was a safecracker - but Peter seems convinced this'll somehow win back the dean's trust.
Peter hires pretty Jane Linden (Diana Lynn) to act as Bonzo's surrogate mother, and it's immediately clear that haughty, austere Valerie hasn't got a chance against sweet and maternal Jane, especially after, for the purposes of the experiment, she begins referring to Peter as "Papa," and he "Mama" to her. They also kiss in the morning as Peter goes off to class, purely to create "the proper atmosphere, harmony in the home." Yeah, right.
Of course, when he's not playing matchmaker Bonzo gets into all sorts of trouble, including robbing a jewelry store for which Peter is blamed. But the script leaves little doubt that all will end happily. (Curiously, the forgotten sequel, 1952's Bonzo Goes to College, implies that all didn't end well. But that's another story.)
Bedtime for Bonzo is not a bad little picture, one that even today kids and undemanding parents might enjoy. It's certainly no worse that the flood of Disney films that followed the same, well-worn formula. Reagan's Peter is a very Disneyesque absent-minded professor, an egghead too dense to realize that Jane has fallen in love with him, or that Bonzo has brought out his paternal instincts.
After eight years in the White House, watching Ronald Reagan movies can never be the same. It's hard not to think of the politician, even when he's scolding an ape dressed as a cowboy for stealing precious jewels. Reagan is somewhat bland but amusing when he's frustrated by the monkey's antics, and moderately appealing in the same way MacMurray was later on. It's really not an embarrassing part for the actor; after all, Cary Grant played an almost identical character the following year (in Howard Hawks' Monkey Business). Reagan needs not to have been ashamed.
Diana Lynn is charming with a June Allyson-Gloria Grahame-Renee Zellweger sort of appeal. Director Fred De Cordova, who would go on to direct The Jack Benny Show and later The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson keeps things moving so the picture never wears out its welcome. Bonzo himself is undeniably adorable, whether sliding down the banister, happily playing with a beach ball, or curious about a vacuum cleaner. And he really does seem to bond with both Reagan and Lynn.
Video & Audio
Bedtime for Bonzo is presented in its original full frame format in an excellent black and white transfer. The image is sharp with little signs of wear, and the blacks are excellent throughout. Optional French and Spanish subtitles are included, along with optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing.
The only supplement is what's billed as a Trailer but what is actually a 1-minute television spot. The spot is complete with text and narration (by Jack Benny Show regular Frank Nelson, who calls the star "Ronald Ree-gun") but without music, though it may have originally aired that way.
Bedtime for Bonzo is one of those famous film titles known to most adults who survived the Reagan years, yet seen by few. It's a decent enough family film, still enjoyable, and not a bad way to kill a rainy afternoon.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.