20 user 8 critic

Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)

Not Rated | | Comedy, Family, Romance | 5 April 1951 (USA)
0:54 | Trailer

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A college professor attempts to salvage his personal and professional reputation by using a laboratory chimpanzee to prove that environment trumps heredity in behavioral development.


Frederick De Cordova (as Frederick de Cordova)


Ted Berkman (story), Raphael Blau (story) (as Raphael David Blau) | 2 more credits »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Ronald Reagan ... Prof. Peter Boyd
Diana Lynn ... Jane Linden
Walter Slezak ... Prof. Hans Neumann
Lucille Barkley Lucille Barkley ... Dr. Valerie Tillinghast
Jesse White ... Babcock
Herbert Heyes ... Dean Tillinghast
Herb Vigran ... Police Lt. Daggett (as Herburt Vigran)
Harry Tyler ... Knucksy Breckenridge
Edward Clark ... Professor Fosdick (as Ed Clark)
Edward Gargan ... Policeman Bill (as Ed Gargan)
Joel Friedkin Joel Friedkin ... Mr. DeWitt
Brad Browne Brad Browne ... Chief of Police
Elizabeth Flournoy Elizabeth Flournoy ... Miss Swithen (as Elizabeth Flourney)
Howard Banks Howard Banks ... Policeman
Perc Launders Perc Launders ... Fireman


Professor Peter Boyd's engagement to the Dean's daughter is upset by the revelation that his father was a habitual convict. To prove the Dean's genetic theory of inherited traits as wrong, Boyd starts a 'secret' experiment. He borrows the science department's chimpanzee with the goal of showing that it is one's environment that affects your reaction to right and wrong. Written by Richard Stephens <richards@metronet.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


THE MOST UPROARIOUS NEW IDEA ON FILM SINCE "FRANCIS"! (original print ad-all caps) See more »


Comedy | Family | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »






Release Date:

5 April 1951 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Apan August på äventyr See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


During the 1980 US Presidential campaign when Ronald Reagan was the Republican nominee; this film suddenly became extremely popular again and was frequently shown on television. The joke in Washington was that "Bedtime for Bonzo" was a "favorite of old movie buffs and Democrats". See more »


When Bonzo is passed through the window, he has a skirt on that soon disappears. See more »


Hans Neumann: Who expects a psychologist to think? Especially when you are so busy thinking what you think other people are thinking.
See more »


Referenced in Gimme a Break!: The Centerfold: Part 1 (1983) See more »

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User Reviews

"The difference between right and wrong(...) by getting him to do right without hope for reward, to avoid wrong without fear of punishment."
12 August 2016 | by oOoBarracudaSee all my reviews

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.

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