As a child raised with classics like The Ghost Breakers and Road to Morocco, Bob Hope became a figure synonymous with a certain kind of Americana. A legendary comedian of the classic Hollywood era, Hope starred in a high volume of incredibly popular movies. However, his films are largely indicative of the periods out of which they emerged. Picking a feature for this week’s column, Bachelor in Paradise seemed like a fascinating choice. Would the 1961 comedy stick with Hope’s usual pattern?
Bachelor in Paradise follows Adam Niles (Bob Hope). A prominent writer of the “sexy” sociological studies which were oh-so-common in the early 1960s, Niles finds himself forced to hide-out in “Paradise” (a California suburb) after his business manager flees the country, leaving the author with a large tax bill. While Niles camps out, he builds close relationships with the resident housewives… and the opposite with their husbands.
Hitting theaters in late 1961, Bachelor in Paradise comes at a complicated period in American history. The Eisenhower 50s were over and the idyllic Kennedy years were soon to follow. Society was changing quickly, and people could only watch and hold on tight.
Probably most interesting is Bachelor in Paradise‘s treatment of the stereotypical, post-WWII suburbia. The men go to work (as they always do during this period), leaving their wives trapped at home with nothing to do but housework, raise the children and socialize with each other. This is standard. We’ve seen this before. However, as Niles begins his whirl-wind tour of the neighborhood, the movie quickly hints at “the problem with no name”.
The sociological problem would soon be analyzed by Betty Friedan in her landmark work, “The Feminine Mystique” only a few years later. Friedan describes generations of increasingly younger and usually college educated women giving up everything to run a household and raise a family. Friedan discusses a general uneasiness in the housewives of the period. There’s talk of a listlessness in the a women and a feeling of being lost. They should have been happy! The question was, why weren’t they?
While the film pre-dates “The Feminine Mystique” by a little less than two years, Bachelor in Paradise surprisingly references many of the same things Friedan documented. This seems particular interesting, given Bob Hope’s persona. Hope made his screen debut in 1934 and remained favorite comedian of older generations. As such, his humor is hardly progressive.
As Adams gets his feet under him in the neighborhood, he quickly befriends a number of the local housewives, particularly Linda Delavane (Paula Prentiss), Rosemary (Lana Turner) and Dolores Jynsom (Janis Page). While the ladies are in different spots in life, happily married, a single working woman and separated and heading for divorce, they are each struggling with some form of Friedan’s problem. This is most evident in Delavane, who is the most “traditional” of the group. She’s still young (as is her husband), but the grind of and pressures of their daily lives have knocked much of the spark out of their relationship. There is something bubbling beneath the surface in their situation(which you don’t see in the other happy housewives of the period), but there simply isn’t a word for it yet.
Now, Bachelor in Paradise isn’t a progressive gem by any stretch. Viewers watch as the worldly, sophisticated and suave (Ha!) Adams teaches the women to inject some change (and even in some cases, passion) into their love lives. Linda dyes her hair a vibrant shade of platinum blonde. The ladies work together to babysit each other’s children so they can stage romantic candlelit dinners for their husbands. Rather than finding themselves, the narrative emphasis is still placed squarely on the romantic partnership. Even worse, on their husband’s pleasure. To make matters worse for the struggling women, the intricate planing doesn’t work. Larry Delavane (the adorable Jim Hutton) hates his wife’s dye job. Other husbands just want to come home to a quiet dinner, they don’t want the pressure of communicating with their bored wives (sigh). No one finds any personal (or sexual) fulfillment thanks to Adams’ efforts.
This is very much Bob Hope’s movie, and the story makes this clear in the comedic (though shallow) portrayal of the local husbands. In fact, while Adams works with the local housewives, audiences only grow to know two of the other men: Larry Delavane and Thomas Jynsom (Don Porter). The narrative does not give the husbands a lot of face time. They’re usually away at the office, after all. As the plot develops, they are little more than disapproving, Ward Clever like caricatures. There is very little character development beneath the superficial in anything relating to these men.
The only relationship given any real build-up (which doesn’t involve Hope) is Larry and Linda. The camera enters their house and they interact freely outside the presence of the other characters. Performers Prentiss and Hutton were on their third of four screen pairings (Where the Boys Are, The Horizontal Lieutenant, Bachelor in Paradise and The Honeymoon Machine), and by this point developed an easy screen chemistry. (At 5’10 Prentiss towered over most Hollywood leading men, resulting in numerous roles opposite the 6’5″ Hutton and the 6’4″ Rock Hudson). With their relationship so much in focus, Bachelor in Paradise feels like a Where the Boys Are sequel (much better than the true sequel, 1964’s Follow the Boys). TV and Tuggle finished college, got married and moved to the suburbs. In fact, the arc follows a very traditional couple storyline for the period.
Meanwhile, Bachelor in Paradise makes an interesting use of Rosemary (Turner) as the local “single” girl. With a stated birthday in 1921, Turner just turned forty at this time. Yet, her character is played with likability, and independence as opposed to matronly and prudish as viewers might also expect from cinema of this period. Rosemary is not an old maid; rather, she’s a female “bachelor” surrounded by a host of standard late fifties suburban families.
While the narrative goes as one would expect from a movie of this time, it is thrilling to see the story resist falling into two particular (and popular) cliches:
1.) Sending an insecure Rosemary running squarely into Adams arm’s when he “saves her” with a marriage proposal.
2.) Have Rosemary give into a “Hey, baby! We deserve each other!” proposal.
A certain amount of respect is kept for the leading lady. Turner injected a sense of independence and agency to so many of her characters, and this is incredibly noticable in her portrayal of Rosemary.
All in all, Bachelor in Paradise ends up being a bit of a brain buster. While the film brings certain narrative expectations as early 1960s studio picture, there is more to this movie. Bachelor in Paradise ends up being an interesting depiction of post WWII suburbia, even if it doesn’t seem like it knows what it’s looking for just yet.
Bachelor in Paradise is currently streaming on FilmStruck.
Categories: feminist friday