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Am I going to say this is a fantastic movie or high art? Of course not. However, over the years a sort of lore has emerged that is WAY OUT OF PROPORTION to the quality of the movie. Mostly because of Johhny Carson's repeated jokes at the expense of the movie during the Reagan years, people have incorrectly assumed it is a bad flick and that is far from true! It is, in fact, a cute family movie that's amazingly good for what it is. The story is very simple and engaging despite it being a chimp movie. A professor (Reagan) wants to show that people are a product of their upbringing not genetics. This is because the professor's father was a criminal and he desperately wants to prove that goodness is a learned choice, not pre-determined. He gets the idea to bring a chimp into his home and try to teach him right from wrong BUT because he is just a single man, he hires a woman (Diana Lynn) to pose as the mommy and he becomes Bonzo's surrogate dad. It's actually quite well-made fluff, and the President had no reason to be ashamed of this movie (though there were several films that I would argue might have brought him SOME shame).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Not every movie in Ronald Reagan's career was KING'S ROW; KNUTE ROCKNE;
THE HASTY HEART; THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE; or SANTA-FE TRAIL. Some were
worthy films where his roles were not too memorable or central: BOY
MEETS GIRL (starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, and Ralph Bellamy);
DARK VICTORY (with Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Geraldine Fitzgerald,
and George Brent); and LOUISE (with Spring Byington, Charles Coburn,
and Edmund Gwenn).
But BEDTIME FOR BONZO got an unfair spin on his film reputation. Reagan was not a great thespian. He was above average as a film actor. But here he was co-starred with Bonzo the Chimp and that was too good a subject for political foes to overlook. I think the first one to use the Chimp as a weapon against Reagan was Johnny Carson, especially since Fred De Cordoba (his producer) was also the producer of BEDTIME FOR BONZO.
Yet the unfairness of this is that the film is better than the fact that Reagan was playing with a chimp. Reagan's co-star is not Bonzo, but Diane Lynn and Walter Slezak (in one of his nice, comic parts). Reagan wants to marry Lynn, but her father is upset (and snobbish) about Regan's father being a criminal. He is afraid of the potential genetic effect on his descendants. Reagan gets involved in taking care of Bonzo in order to demonstrate that he's a good father, and that nurturing and a loving environment can overcome genetic defects. Bonzo is one of the college chimps used by the science labs, and so Slezak is involved (as a comic caricature of Albert Einstein).
Believe it or not, BEDTIME FOR BONZO is actually a film about a debate on education, genetics, and emotional stability. Oddly enough another more popular comedy is similar to this too. TRADING PLACES has a similar question concerning changing the social places and classes of Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy in that $1.00 bet between Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche.
BEDTIME FOR BONZO's screenplay suggests that nurturing works. It is a simple little comedy, with Reagan's problems being directly caused by Bonzo or as a result of complications due to having to care for Bonzo. It is pleasant fluff, but it is curious that it has such a scientific/philosophical question in the background. Reagan must have had an idea of it's worth as a film as much as the public did. He said that he thought the script for BEDTIME FOR BONZO was a decent one, but the sequel (BONZO GOES TO COLLEGE) was a silly one, so he would not do that film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
OK OK....so this film isn't Citizen Kane! But it is definitely worth watching, even if it is just to see President Reagan acting with a chimp. The story is basic- a professor tries to teach a monkey the difference between right and wrong to prove the dean of the college is wrong about hereditary traits. He decides to become the chimp's "Poppa" and hires a pretty young maid to be the "Momma." Basic plot? Yes. Predictable? Yes. Worth the watch? YES! Ronald Reagan was SOOO underrated as an actor, and this shows off his skills, even though it's not King's Row. My favorite scene is the breakfast scene where Prof. Boyd and Jane are trying to act like parents, and the Prof. calls Jane his "little chicken." I also like it when Hans calls the Prof. a "Dummkopf" (German for "stupid head.) The only thing I wish was different was that Jane would fall out of the tree, and Peter would catch her, maybe with his fiancée watching! 8/10
I found this to be a rather cute comedy, which has gotten a bit of a strange reputation owing to the fact that the "Gipper" plays an unusual role. But Reagan does play comedy well (it's unfortunate that he didn't make more comedies in his day), and Walter Slezak is amusing in a nice, if a bit stereotypical kind of part as his German professor/mentor.
Sure, it's a bit corny and "preachy" by today's standards, but when I watched it for the first time, I was somewhat impressed. When taken in the context of it's time (the early fifties), it stands up fairly well. Ronald Reagan was a better actor than he is given credit for by many people.
Are we a product of our surroundings or are we born the way we are
going to be? This issue is the driving force behind this intelligent
and thought-provoking film that delves into what other films only think
Okay, now really. If you want a pleasant, family-oriented fun little film, then this is for you. Been made fun of as one of Reagan's bombs, it's not nearly as bad as it might sound.
When a university professor is judged for his father's criminal tendencies, he is insulted and proceeds to conduct an experiment with Bonzo, the college lab "mascot" to see if a chimp can be taught right and wrong. Diana Lynn (from Martin & Lewis' "My Friend Irma" and "You're Never Too Young") is perfect as the "nanny" hired to help out with Bonzo. Reagan is engaged to the dean's daughter, but well, you can guess the rest. So, sit back and let Bonzo swing from tree to tree and forget your troubles.
When Ronald Reagan, B picture actor became the 40th president of the
United States on the way there he took a lot of criticism about his
former profession as thespian. He always preferred his identification
with the motion picture industry to be symbolized by playing George
Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American. His supporters always referred to
him as the Gipper. But his detractors always used Bedtime For Bonzo as
the quintessential Reagan film.
It's both the title and the fact that Reagan is playing second fiddle to a young chimpanzee in the film that seem to resonate. Professors Reagan and Walter Slezak are conducting experiments as to just how close are the chimpanzees to man on the evolutionary scale. Reagan takes Bonzo home to live with him and treats him like a child and not a pet. For said experiment Bonzo needs a mother and Diana Lynn answers an advertisement for a chimp's mom.
It works out well on the scientific end, but plays havoc with Reagan's love life as he's slightly engaged to Lucille Barkley, daughter of college dean, Herbert Hayes. And Hayes just got an offer from Yale for Bonzo, but neither Reagan or Lynn want to part with him.
As a pet owner I can understand that, but the film does try to sell the point of view that Bonzo is more than a pet. That's a bit much for me to swallow.
Still Bedtime For Bonzo is an innocuous and pleasant comedy and could probably be remade today. Can you see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie being Bonzo's parents?
Having never seen Ronald Reagan's acting chops, I didn't know what to
expect when strapping in for Frederick De Cordova's 1951 feature,
Bedtime for Bonzo. Starring the strapping future president of the
United States, along with Diana Lynn, Bedtime for Bonzo tells the story
of a young psychology professor trying to overcome the stigma his
father's life casts over his own. Only films from the 1950's can deal
with such complex issues, turn them into comedies, and still teach and
reach an outcome that no textbook could duplicate. There's more than
meets the eye in this film, and in its star, who I had only ever known
from history books.
Life is going well for young Professor Peter Boyd (Ronald Reagan). He is enjoying a fulfilling career at the university, he is engaged to the dean's daughter, Dr. Valerie Tillinghast (Lucille Barkley) and has a great friendship with Professor Hans Neumann (Walter Slezak). All is right until the rug is pulled out from under his life by a former associate, well, a cellmate of Peter's father. Revealing to the dean that Peter's father was imprisoned, he instantly believes that Peter is destined to descend into criminal behavior. Believing the common theory of the time that criminal behavior is genetic rather than a learned trait, Dean Tillinghast (Herbert Heyes) instantly calls off the engagement between Peter and his daughter. Disgusted by the actions of the dean, and eager to prove himself worthy of his daughter, all the while seeking to prove that environment dictates criminal behavior rather than genetics, Peter vows to conduct an experiment in which even a monkey will learn right from wrong, as long as his environment is fulfilling. A monkey is exactly what he gets too, as Professor Neumann has a chimpanzee in his care to conduct experiments with at the college. Quickly realizing that he needs help, and a mother figure to make the experiment work, Peter puts out an add for a caretaker for Bonzo. When a young Jane Linden (Diana Lynn) answers the add and is undaunted by the task of caring for a monkey instead of a child, she is instantly hired and the experiment begins. As the experiment progresses, so do feelings between Peter and Jane, as Peter becomes more distraught that he has to prove himself to his prospective father-in-law. Valerie also reveals what her environment and genetics have resulted in her as she becomes more engrossed with status and what people are thinking about Peter and his work. Environment proves to be a more important factor for the people in Bonzo's life than it ever was for Bonzo, and the experiment yields wonderful results beyond expectations.
What an intro to Ronald Reagan! A looker to rival contemporaries such as Cary Grant, one quickly wonders what would have become, had Reagan not veered into politics. Something I very much enjoy about movies from the 1950's is the depth of plot they implore. It's not as common today to deal with something as complex as genetics theory or learned traits such as in this film. Sprinkling in some comedy, movies from this decade towed the line with their ability to bring such topics to full attention while still creating an enjoyable film. What is better than classic film scores? Bedtime for Bonzo was filled with the harmonic sounds so seminal to films from this era, which are always a joy to revisit. A wholesome film with a potent message, Bedtime for Bonzo is a film that can be enjoyed with the whole family, even 65 years after its initial release.
"Bedtime for Bonzo" is a light comedy that's fit for the whole family.
One doesn't have to be a child to enjoy the antics of the co-star
chimpanzee, Bonzo. The plot, acting and technical aspects of this film
are all good. This is a nice look at Diana Lynn who played the female
lead, Jane Linden. She was a child protégé pianist at age 10. She was a
very capable and promising actress whose career was cut short. After
being in several movies and a number of TV films and programs, she took
a short respite from acting in 1964 while raising a family with her
second husband in New York. She had just returned to Hollywood in 1971
with a part in a new film, but she suffered a stroke and died before
filming began. She was 45.
The adults will enjoy some of the witty dialog as well. Here are some lines that made me laugh. Professor Neumann (Walter Slezak) to Peter Boyd (Ronald Reagan): "Who expects a psychologist to think? Especially when you're so busy thinking what you think other people are thinking?" Prof. Neumann to Jane (Diana Lynn): "And now they've come to take Bonzo." Jane: "To jail?" Professor: "No, to Yale." Again, Prof. Neumann to Jane: "You're no dope, Jane. You couldn't be. You don't have a university degree, and you don't teach logic."
Watching this move again after many years, I was reminded of recent television shows about home videos. So many of those were of pets, zoo animals and animals on the farm and in the backyard. It may still be on the air but I watch very little TV. Interest in animals in the movies and on TV seems to ebb and flow.
The decades of the 1950s and 1960s saw a number of movies and TV series made with animal co-stars. The highly successful Francis the Talking Mule made five successful movies from 1951 1955. Donald O'Connor was the male lead in those films, each of which had different female stars. "Mr. Ed," was a talking horse that starred in a six-year TV comedy series by the same name. Alan Young was the male lead for the series that had 144 episodes plus an unaired pilot. Many people have grown up watching Lassie or Rin Tin Tin films. Other films have had a variety of animal co-stars: horses, deer, bears, lions, wolves, and more. Of course, animation has resulted in some huge blockbuster films for kids of all ages. Judging from the comedy lines in some of those, I wonder if they aren't targeted more for older audiences.
Anyway, "Bedtime for Bonzo" should be a fun movie for folks of all ages.
There has been a lot of negative stuff over the years about this film... It really is much funnier than you might expect...And a lot of it is done with an ironic tongue in cheek...If you decide to see it...Do so with an open mind! Ronald Reagan is more than competent in his leading role...A rather interesting accomplishment when you consider he had to play opposite a Chimp! At times the production values do leave a bit to be desired, but then, you could make the same comment about a LOT of films that are over 60 years old! It's not the most original film in the history of the cinema...But it certainly is much better than most!
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