Edward Everett Horton
|Released by Paramount Pictures | Directed by Norman Taurog
Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- Get this– a Maurice Chevalier character chases after multiple women, ignoring (or just ignorant of) their marital status.
- There is a very real worry at first that a baby found in the backseat of Rene’s car may actually be his offspring, returned by a down-on-her-luck mother. Luckily this is dispelled, though not before its revealed that Rene keeps a diary of all of his sexual conquests.
- Rene and Victor figure out how to calm a baby by spying on a silhouette breast feeding.
A Bedtime Story: Put Me to Sleep
“Now, Monsieur Baby must go to sleep. You lucky little lamb… don’t lose your sleep. That’s bad. Don’t be down hearted. Just wait, you’ve only started! This world is full of wrong and song and bands and beetles and birds. And twinkling stars, and motor cars! And girls, and girls, AND GIRLS!”
I’m not much for being overly nostalgic, but I will admit something: I do miss a time when babies could become movie stars. There’s something deeply innocent about it. Baby LeRoy, the preeminent adorable factory on whom A Bedtime Story is centered, became a sensation after this movie was released. Here, he mostly burps, giggles, and destroys pocket watches with an unequal ferocity. It’s a baby thing, it’s what cute babies do.
LeRoy pops up in the first act of your typical Maurice Chevalier film of the early 30s, where he’s just a gigolo and Paris is his playground (Maurice, not the baby). When LeRoy arrives, it civilizes him. Giving a selfish person something to care for can help them discover something both resilient and kind within themselves, and here those cute baby cheeks and mischievous grin (LeRoy’s, to be clear) put both men on the same footing.
It’s not a complete redemption, though, until meek Sally shows up. She claims to be a nurse sent by the agency but in reality is a starving girl who saw the job posting and hurried to the apartment in hopes of beating the real nurse to the punch. In case the baby wasn’t enough, Sally’s here to further curb Maurice’s sexual appetite and to teach him the pleasure of staying in. He becomes a family man overnight.
Which, admittedly, doesn’t sit too well with his fiancee. She’s a rich hoity toit, but a little perturbed when Maurice shows up for a bridge weekend getaway (oh those rich!) with a baby and beautiful young nurse in tow. Then comes the problems with Maurice’s best friend’s wife, and then the baby’s parents show up…
A Bedtime Story is pretty silly, but loses a lot of steam in its second and third act. Once LeRoy settles in and the romantic plot ticks off its boxes, it drifts away. Maybe it’s because Helen Twelvetrees as Sally doesn’t get any jokes of her own– she’s the straight man of the cast, only there to look happy when romanced, sad when spurned. Maybe it’s that Twelvetrees has this innate ability to look so damn sad, but it really undercuts the humor. Plus, this movie runs an excruciating 90 minutes (pre-Code excruciating, I guess I have to stipulate), even though the film’s conclusion is foregone by the 50 minute mark.
Chevalier has some fun in the role, but his bubbly, vivacious personality matched against a baby makes the movie sacharrine. Even with Edward Everett Horton in the wings to give a nice counterpoint to the cuddlefest (including one very funny sequence wherein he’s shaving Maurice and learns the other man has been on the make with his wife), it still can’t overcome the sheer preposterous amount of … oh my god, I’m running out of synonyms for cuteness.
As I was remarking at the top, there’s still something very innocent and pleasing about the film. Taking Chevalier’s normal persona and defanging it isn’t surprising, and the way the movie carefully peppers the film with Chevalier singing lullabies and winking at the audience all the while make it a fairly pleasant if overall unsurprising experience.
It’s not a particularly strong showcase for anyone, but considering its financial and critical success, it’s an interesting signpost for the pre-Code era. There’s certainly sex on the margins of the film, including a few risque gags such as the breastfeeding and the lengthy inference that the kid may be Chevalier’s that I didn’t see coming, but it quickly eschews that for the pleasures of domesticity and simplicity. It preaches conformity with a wink, and soon enough that wink would evaporate in the haze of strict censorship.
But, hey, that baby is pretty freakin’ cute.
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Trivia & Links
- The New York Times review makes it clear just how popular the baby became overnight– they devote an entire paragraph to him in their review.
Baby Leroy’s true name is—Winebrenner, Esq., son of a young widow of Pasadena, Cal. He, young Winebrenner, received a regular salary for his performance in the film, and in addition to this the Paramount company took out an endowment policy to mature when he reaches the ripe age of 15. So he is assured of a good education. Moreover, the producers of “A Bedtime Story” are already looking around for another narrative in which to cast this speechless prodigy.
- Cliff at Immortal Ephemera likes this one a bit more than I do,
While the baby stole the movie from Chevalier back in 1933, he’s not the pervasive force you might expect. He and Chevalier come across as equals in terms of screen presence, and once Twelvetrees arrives Baby LeRoy doesn’t do much more than lie still being adored. You could make just as big a case for Edward Everett Horton stealing the movie, as he’s a major presence throughout, especially during the first hour. He also shares the funniest scene in the movie, when he prepares to shave Chevalier immediately after discovering that his wife was one of Rene’s many conquests.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film is an obscure one. (It’s a Paramount movie from the early 1930s, and thus Universal hates you for just remembering this exists.) I wish you luck in finding it!
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