Bachelor Bait (1934) Poster

(1934)

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5/10
Great Expectations Meets Romance Incorporated
movingpicturegal22 May 2006
Mildly amusing film about a mild-mannered man named William Watts (Stuart Erwin) who works at city hall in the marriage license bureau and demonstrates a knack for helping underage couples get married (as we see here, when a very young Anne Shirley shows up in the office with her young man and Watts convinces the young man's father as to the benefits of marriage), but gets himself fired via very silly plot element. Out of work he decides to place an ad, with assistance from his always helpful neighbor Cynthia (Rochelle Hudson), in the newspaper as a matrimonial consultant, offering to get men wives at $5 a pop. Follows an almost instant huge reaction to the ad, after which he meets up with a taxi driver/attorney and they immediately become partners starting "Romance Inc.", a dating service with an office soon PACKED with men and women meeting each other and complaining about inaccurate photos, etc. - a sort of 30s version of online personals, you could call it. When a letter comes from a bumbling Oklahoma millionaire/oilman who wants a wife, Watts takes it upon himself to become personal matchmaker for the man, handpicking Cynthia, now the office secretary and in love with Watts. Which makes one wonder, how come Watts, a man so enamored of the institution of marriage and finding romance for all comers doesn't seem to want a wife for himself?

This film is so-so - mostly amusing in the scenes featuring the ex-wife of the attorney who comes in to Romance Inc. seeking her alimony and ends up chasing after the millionaire oilman throwing one-liners and catty comments right and left as she battles against Cynthia to win him and his dough. Grady Sutton appears as the millionaire, in a role not unlike almost every other role I have ever seen him in, so - no surprise quite well played. Rochelle Hudson is pretty here, but quite dull. The film features a number of familiar character actors in small parts. Worth a peek.
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8/10
You'll be hooked by this 'Bait'
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre23 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
'Bachelor Bait' is a splendid example of the "second feature", with a low budget and short running time yet still enjoyable. This movie's plot contains several clichés, but one of them is subverted in a clever way, and there are several of those great performances by supporting actors that Hollywood studios (in this case, RKO) gave us so generously during the 1930s.

The movie starts off in deepest cliché, with a stock shot of a Manhattan street scene followed by that hackneyed hustle-bustle music that accompanies the opening shot in so many big-city movies. (But at least, just this once, it's not played on a xylophone.) Stuart Erwin plays William Watts, the meek clerk in the Marriage Licence Bureau. There's a clever scene establishing Watts as put-upon by both a big-shot judge and a lowly lift-attendant. This is followed by a well-written scene, showing Watts taking a personal interest in the marriages of his clients. A misunderstanding leads to Watts getting sacked, and there's an interesting line here about Watts being able to buy a pair of men's gloves for 25¢ down and 25¢ a week: was this true in 1934? By the way: Stu Erwin's character lives in a flat that looks much too large and nice for someone earning such a meagre wage, but plenty of movies commit this error.

Deciding to set up a matrimonial agency, Watts places an advert for men seeking wives and is straight away inundated with clients. There's never any mention of an ad for women seeking husbands, but Watts gets a flood of female clients too. Here comes another cliché I don't like: the hapless guy who's been a no-hoper his whole life, who finally takes a tiny bit of initiative and immediately becomes a huge success. On the plus side, there's a really deft comedy performance here by Otto Hoffman as the postal clerk handling Watts's mountain of mail. Sourpuss actor Hoffman could have become one of the great supporting actors, but he was too similar (in appearance, voice and personality) to Charles Lane, the all-time greatest movie sourpuss.

Rochelle Hudson, whom I've always found bland and uninteresting - Janet Gaynor without the sex appeal - is Watts's secretary Cynthia. Here we get another cliché: the secretary who's in love with her boss, but he's too much of a sap to notice. Watts comes afoul of Allie Summers, a gold-digger seeking a rich husband. Summers is played by Pert Kelton. I've always found Kelton vulgar and cheap, with her annoying fake Brooklyn accent. (Or the even more annoying 'Oirish' accent Kelton used in 'The Music Man'.) Here, to my amazement, Kelton plays a character whom I actually found quite sexy, and (this is also atypical for her) she wears some tasteful and attractive outfits. Rochelle Hudson gets to loosen the corset of her good-girl typecasting: there's a nice bit when Kelton's bad girl bitches Hudson's good girl, and the good girl ever-so-subtly bitches right back.

'Bachelor Bait' has lots of that 1930s Hollywood snappy dialogue, but none of it sparkles. A lot of the gag lines in this movie involve a male character being treated like a baby or a woman.

The undeservedly obscure character actor Clarence Wilson gives here what may be his best performance, outside his usual range and flashing his dentures more than usual. Wilson usually played sharpies: here, he plays a district attorney who's a complete dimwit ... because he's a stooge put into office by ward-heeler Berton Churchill. (Churchill usually played respected public figures who were secretly crooks.) Confusingly, Wilson's D.A. character has an assistant whom Wilson keeps addressing as 'Wilson'.

Got room for one more cliché? Watts's matrimonial agency acquires a client named Belden, who's a millionaire simpleton. I really dislike this stock character: dozens of movies feature a millionaire simpleton, but how many such people exist in real life? Belden is even more implausible because he's a simpleton who's a *self-made* millionaire, not some idiot who had the dumb luck to inherit wealth. Belden is played by Grady Sutton, who often played wealthy simpletons and seems to be doing his usual by-the-numbers performance here. But now comes the clever part...

SPOILER RIGHT NOW. It turns out that 'Belden' isn't a millionaire OR a dope: he's actually an undercover investigator from the D.A.'s office. I found this completely unexpected yet totally plausible. The clever subversion of the rich-idiot cliché makes up for all the genuine clichés in this movie. Also, the casting of Grady Sutton is a masterstroke: Sutton played rich idiots in several other movies, so when he shows up as a *fake* rich idiot in this movie, we assume he must be a *genuine* rich idiot.

The weak spot in this film is "Skeets" Gallagher, who plays an implausible character in an improbable way. Plenty of screen actors used gimmicky names, so I have no problem with the fact that Richard Gallagher billed himself as "Skeets". It *does* bother me that - unlike Groucho Marx, Shemp Howard, Nosmo King, Trixie Friganza and other performers with gimmicky names - "Skeets" Gallagher was usually billed with his nickname in quotation marks (inverted commas), drawing excessive attention to the gimmick ... and also drawing attention to the basic glibness and phoniness of Gallagher's screen technique. Gallagher showed up in several good films, but I've never yet seen him give a performance that impressed me. Gallagher's role in this film should have gone to the brilliant character actor Alan Dinehart.

There's a funny climax, in which Berton Churchill's two separate schemes to wreck the matrimonial agency cross each other's croppers. 'Bachelor Bait' is great, and I'll rate it an eight.
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5/10
The story had promise but the film just never delivered
calvinnme19 December 2009
Stu Erwin usually played in supporting roles, but here he's given a lead in a comedy with a promising storyline. Unfortunately, his comic shoulders are just not broad enough to carry the load alone. He plays Bill Watts, an ex-employee of the Marriage License Bureau who decides to go into business as a matchmaker. Bill may have a bland exterior, but he has the soul of a romantic and it turns out that he is very good at what he does, thus his business booms. His problems begin when a millionaire shows up at his office (Grady Sutton) looking for a mate. Bill picks out his own secretary (Rochelle Hudson) as a potential wife, but an obnoxious and loud golddigger (Pert Kelton) inserts herself into the situation. From this point forward the story bogs down, not just because of the plot itself, but the gold digger gets tiresome in a hurry. This is the kind of role that could have been handled with skill by someone like Patsy Kelly, but Ms. Kelton's voice and presence soon becomes as irksome as fingernails on a blackboard.

This movie was made shortly after the production code came in, and I think that went a long way in sinking it. Movies were so completely sterilized in 1934 and 1935 that comedies that ventured anywhere near the topics of sex and romance often come across like the musical comedies of 1931 and 1932 that had all of their songs stripped out of them due to the hostility of the public toward movie musicals. Something is just missing.
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5/10
It starts well but never really rises above mediocrity
MartinHafer30 December 2007
This is a moderately interesting time-passer and nut much else. Now it started pretty well with hard working Stu Erwin opening a matrimonial agency and helping many lonely bachelors find mates--so far so good. But later, when a pushy gold digger appears and insinuates herself into the life of a lonely millionaire (who Erwin is trying to find a partner for), the film loses steam. It's really a shame, as up until then, Erwin was a likable character and the plot was moderately engaging. But with the introduction of the woman, the film became a bit annoying--after all, she is so pushy and unlikable that you soon tire of her. Fortunately, the film ends pretty well and is generally very inoffensive and typifies the word "mediocre".
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8/10
Better than you'd think
praesagitio22 May 2006
The dialog is much sharper than you'd think; it's genuinely funny. Of course, some of it may be funny only in context: when one character asks what another would say, the Stuart Erwin character replies, "Peanuts, almonds, walnuts. . . "--getting around the prohibition about saying "Nuts!" while letting the audience in on the joke. Stuart Erwin is all right as the Average Joe, and although something's clearly lost for modern audiences in watching Rochelle Hudson's facial expressions (like Botox before Botox existed), the secondary characters are good. Pert Kelton ramps up her tough-talking sidekick schtick to become a tough-talking antagonist who'd be a perfect candidate for the matrimonial bureau except that one of the qualifications is that the ideal girl hasn't been touched by human hands. "You've got me there," she cracks. Watch for Berton Churchill's posing for a picture as a crime-fighting (all right, bumbling) district attorney; his expressions are priceless.
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