The Funny Papers: Summer Drive-In Double Feature – Bachelor Flat (1962) & How Sweet It Is! (1968)
Summertime brings back nostalgic reflections for all of us. Depending upon your generation, background, and interests, your particular memories will bring you back differently. For us cinephiles, there are classic films that harken back those carefree days of summer. It seemed more than fitting to serve up a pair of classic, silly comedies reminiscent of the old drive-in, to kick off this summer properly.[
In Frank Tashlin’s Bachelor Flat (1962), this 60’s sex comedy brings us to a beach house in Santa Monica. Starring Terry-Thomas (as Prof. Bruce Patterson), Celeste Holm (as his fashion designer fiancée, Helen Bushmill), Richard Beymer (as the law school student neighbor, Mike), Tuesday Weld (as her daughter, Libby). And amongst the character roles, there is one very charming Dachshund named “Jessica.”[
All the ingredients are present for a fun summer salad of slapstick: silly slapstick situations, over-sexed motives and sex stereotypes wrapped nicely in PG standards, anglo/Brit cultural stereotypes presented softly for humorous effects, and of course, a perfect California beach setting along the Pacific Coast highway. A Jack Cummings production filmed in CinemaScope, this film transports us to a colorful escape of comedy comfort food.
The British invasion was just around the corner for America when this was filmed, so the comedic stylings of Terry-Thomas in the lead was the perfect pick. He portrays an associate professor at the local college of archeology. He dons 3 piece suits, a bowler hat, umbrella, and his signature gap-toothed grin with British charm. And for an American twist, every female student is obsessed with his polished, well-mannered restraint that they pursue him like hormonal teenagers after the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night (1964).
Much of the plot centers around the numerous young women who chase after Professor Patterson. There’s a scene of female students anxiously awaiting his arrival in class that could be a mirror of a very similar scene in Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981), as female students crush on Harrison Ford’s Jones (also an archeology professor). While the professor stays in his fiancee’s summer beach house as she is away in Paris, his neighbor is the dreamy Richard Beymer, Mike, who lives with his dog Jessica in his camper in her parking pad. As an audience, we are supposed to believe attractive women only go out with Mike to get closer to the Professor. My fondness for Beymer’s tall dark looks, large overbite and freckles believe otherwise.
The real troubles begin when Helen’s 17 year-old daughter Libby shows up unexpectedly. Not only did Libby skip out on her boarding school (which her truancy is a bigger problem than is addressed because she may have actually missed graduating from high school) but because Helen failed to even mention she has a daughter to Bruce, her surprise visit is shrouded in further lies to her true identity.
It all gets muddled with mixed-up identities and farces of characterizations. Additionally, a large dinosaur bone- a gem of discovery by the professor- is buried by Jessica. The hunt is on. This time the cinematic parallel takes us back to mirroring to a famed screwball comedy, with a dog named “George” in Bringing Up Baby (1937). Overall, it’s a sweet, nonsensical summer flick.
As for the second feature in this double dose at the retro drive-in, I’ll stick to the theme of 1960s comedies that tackle both battle of the sexes and the generation gap with Jerry Paris’s How Sweet It Is! (1968).
As common for summertime classics, settings are often placed either on the beach or on vacation. In this film, we take a whacky journey with James Garner as photographer Grif Henderson, Debbie Reynolds as his wife Jenny, and Donald Losby as their son Davey on a European vacation. But, as inevitable with a good comedy, things do not exactly go as planned.
From the very beginning scene, we see evidence plus strong innuendo that Mr. and Mrs. Henderson may be parents of a teenager, but their romantic relationship remains very healthy. Grif is worried that his father-and-son time left with his flower-child son is slipping away. Taking a gig as a photographer for the high school girls’ trip to Europe, with his son Davey tagging along as assistant, Grif intends to get his father/son trip in. But Jenny wants a European vacation too. She makes arrangements to rent a villa and unofficially join them for part of it.
The assumption is that things go awry when mom meddles. Beginning with Jenny’s first step into planning her part of this trip, she is a victim of a scam in renting a villa. And coincidentally, Terry-Thomas plays a brief role as the conman. The true owner of this palatial villa is a very handsome and suave Maurice Ronet as wealthy playboy Philipe Maspere. Nearly tapped out on funds from paying upfront to the shyster, Jenny naively accepts Philipe’s more than accommodating offer to stay at a ridiculously discounted rate.
While there is a very soft take on the generation gap and counterculture focus, the bigger theme is a good old-fashioned romantic comedy. Conflicts arise for both Grif and Jenny as others compete for their affections, while they attempt to prove they are both still very much attracted to each other. There is an implication they are each dealing with a middle-aged crisis of sorts, with each thwarting off pursuers while simultaneously proving their own “sexual mojo prowess.” This seems a bit on the absurd side to me considering how young and attractive both are. In 1968, Garner is a ridiculously handsome age 40 and Reynolds is adorable as ever at an incredibly fit age of 36.
One of the funniest ongoing bits come every time Reynolds flashes her bikini in various situations, creating lusty havoc wherever she goes. Yes, mom still “has it.” Another favorite for me is a small part portrayed by Paul Lynde, as the ship’s purser. I’m an enormous fan of his scene-stealing work, so even his very minor roles can bring magic. The man had a natural instinct for comedy. On deck, Lynde’s character is a flustered and scolding type, calling out everyone as “animals.” Later we find him in a brothel, of all places, disapprovingly referring to the others as perverts. All in all, this film is an entertaining trip from reality.
The Rom-Coms of the 1960s such as these tackled generational clashes and coming-of-age within the counterculture but with a far lighter touch than the harsh realities of the world around them, including the Vietnam War. As an escape, several of these films took an extreme redirection towards the silly romantic comedies and parodies. I’ve written about this subgenre before, which you can read HERE, or explore the CMH site for more comedies and quotes within this category. Meanwhile- see you at the retro drive-in!
–Kellee Pratt for Classic Movie Hub
When not performing marketing and social media as her day gig, Kellee Pratt writes for her own classic film blog, Outspoken & Freckled (kelleepratt.com). Kellee teaches classic film courses in her college town in Kansas (Screwball Comedy this Fall). Unapologetic social butterfly, she’s an active tweetaholic/original alum for #TCMParty, member of the CMBA, Social Producer for TCM (2015, 2016), and busy mom of four kids and 3 fur babies. You can follow Kellee on twitter at @IrishJayHawk66.