For a light-hearted romance comedy, one couldn’t pick a better movie than 1939’s Bachelor Mother, which stars Ginger Rogers, David Niven, and Charles Coburn. The true subject matter, that of an abandoned baby, is a serious one but deftly handled in this film. Rogers portrays Polly Parrish, a hard-working and clever shopgirl for the John B. Merlin and Son Department store in NYC. The need for employees is great as the Christmas shopping season is right at hand, yet Polly has just learned that her position will be cut once the holiday is past. On her lunch break, she sees an abandoned baby placed on the steps of an orphanage and she rushes to stop the baby as it is about to roll down the steps and land in the street. At that moment, a worker at the orphanage opens the front door, and seeing Polly with the baby, assumes that she is the mother. Polly protests that she is not the mother and walks away after handing them the baby. The workers decide to track down Polly and they find out she works at the department store. While looking for her there, the “Son” in the store’s title, David Merlin(David Niven) is told about this unwed mother shopgirl and decides to find out how the store can help her out in her situation. He arranges for Polly to keep her job. Polly’s landlady gets involved when she offers to babysit the baby while Polly is at work, so being unable to convince anyone that she is not the baby’s mother, Polly decides to take the baby in and become his mother.
The comedic part of the film is that the store’s owner, J. B. Merlin(Charles Coburn), is tired of his playboy son’s ways and wants him to settle down and get married and provide him with some grandchildren. David’s character undergoes the most change as we see him in the film’s beginning content with his playboy lifestyle until he meets the wise and pretty Polly. It is fun to see the impact her character has on his and how this starts the wheels in turning him away from his carefree existance. There are mistaken identities, a disgruntled stock clerk who wants to use Polly’s predicament in order to blackmail David Merlin and all of these shenanigans add up to a fun movie viewing experience.
Bachelor Mother was distributed by RKO Studios. It cost the studio $500,000 to make the film and it earned almost $2,000,000 in box office profits. Directed by Garson Kanin, screenplay by Norman Krasna, which actually came from a 1935 Austrian-Hungarian movie, The Little Mother, written by Felix Jackson. Bachelor Mother is available via Amazon.com, there are several scenes including a fine summing up of the movie’s plot by a fan on Youtube, and on Saturday, August 24th, Turner Classic Movies will air it at 4:30 pm(ET)/3:30 pm(CT).