A Dog, a Dinosaur Bone, and a Delinquent… Go to the Beach with BACHELOR FLAT (1962)

After an unusually cold April, May suddenly feels more like a scorching July and makes me yearn for the beach. Or, classic beach movies. When I nostalgically recall of summers of my youth, silly sex comedies of the 60s often filled my days. I wasn’t old enough to see them first-run so my screenings were likely a decade or two later, running in syndication on television. Squeezed in amongst the carefree flicks of Annette and Frankie and Elvis, I have fond memories of Frank Tashlin’s BACHELOR FLAT (1962).

The story is simple enough and whips along with chaotic energy, driven by the basic premise of mistaken identity… and sex. Starring Tuesday Weld, Richard Beymer, Terry-Thomas, and Celeste Holm, BACHELOR FLAT offered a popular cast. Terry-Thomas portrays British professor Bruce Patterson, a highly-disciplined and mild-mannered college professor who seeks the calm, simple life: digging up dinosaur bones, the serenity of his beach house, and the love of his fashion designer fiancee, Helen Bushmill (portrayed by Celeste Holm). Problems arise when this (until recently) lifelong, shy bachelor is hounded by sex-starved women; many are his students, who find his old school British accent and stoicism more than just charming- also challenging and irresistible. The professor rents his beach house from Helen while she’s out of the country, building her international fashion career. Helen also rents her parking pad adjacent to her beach house to law school student Mike Pulaski (Richard Beymer), who lives in his modest camper with his cute dachsund dog, “Jessica.” Trouble brews again when a seventeen year old girl named “Libby” (Tuesday Weld) shows up, who claims to be a street-wise teenager delinquent on the lam from the law. She manages to charm both bachelors Bruce and Mike before her true identity is revealed. Even sweet “Jessica” finds trouble in a way that echoes a famous dog (Skippy) character, “George” from BRINGING UP BABY (1938).

At the time of filming, Tuesday Weld was eighteen years old yet had been acting since early childhood- a childhood where she was expected to be the bread winner and grew up fast. Very fast. By the time she turned a mere twelve years old, she had already spent the last 2 years battling heavy drinking, love affairs, a nervous breakdown, and a suicide attempt. Her ability to play a teen role for many years, coupled with her acting skills and professionalism, kept her in high demand. Weld’s private life was about as famous as the roles she turned down, including: LOLITA (1962), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), TRUE GRIT (1969), CACTUS FLOWER (1969). In this film, she seems much older than her character’s high school senior status, even though she’s playing someone her own age. Not surprising.

Not even 2 months after wrapping up his role as “Tony” on WEST SIDE STORY (he was nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance, Best Actor, Comedy or Musical), Richard Beymer began production on this light comedy, filmed over at 20th Century Fox studios and on location along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. No doubt this young actor was a hot ticket and on the rise to stardom. He was nominated in 1962 for another Golden Globe for “Most Promising Newcomer, Male” and a Golden Laurel award for “Top Male New Personality.” He continued to work, mostly in television, including his iconic return to the David Lynch famed “Twin Peaks” series (1989 – 1991, 2017). Beymer discovered his creativity exceeded beyond acting and pursued writing, cinematography, and filmmaking documentaries.

British born Terry-Thomas was an actor who found international appeal and fame. Born Thomas Terry Hoar-Stevens, he chose the stage name Terry Thomas when he tried his hand at theater after a long string of vocations that failed to pan out. He later added the hyphen, which he felt represented his signature gap between his teeth. With his trademark looks and catchphrases (“jolly good show”), Thomas was equally popular in films on this side of the pond. By the 1960s, he became a beloved actor in meatier character roles, often with a low-brow comedy edge, such as: IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963), HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE (1965), THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES… (1965), HOW SWEET IT IS! (1968). Thomas was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1971. He tried to pick up parts here and there in the 1970s and 1980s, but it grew more difficult to act as the disease progressed. He became nearly destitute financially, selling off his estate, living in a meager flat with growing medical costs and unable to work. Friends and fellow actors created a fundraiser on his behalf so he could live out his days in dignity. He died in 1990 at the age of 78 years old.

Celeste Holm was a successful and prolific actress across stage, television, and film. She gave strong performances early in her film career including GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT, 1947 (she won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance as Best Actress in a Supporting Role), THE SNAKE PIT, 1948, COME TO THE STABLE, 1949 (she was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress in a Supporting Role), ALL ABOUT EVE, 1950 (again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role). Starting early in the 1950s, Holm transitioned to mostly television roles for the rest of her career, which continued right up until her final year. She passed away at age 95 in 2012, after working over a hundred acting credits.

Holm was a popular actress with a highly likable screen persona but somehow got stuck always playing second fiddle to the lead. Ya know, that Eve Arden type who was a gal’s best pal who would repeatedly play the bridesmaid, but never the bride. (In regards to both Holm and Arden, I’d say I’m dumbfounded as to why these first-rate actors could ever be considered second bananas.) Interestingly, Celeste Holm is finally the bride in BACHELOR FLAT, although we never quite make it to the wedding. It’s disappointing we don’t see more of Holm in this picture, as we do the other main cast. I would blame the youth-focused 60s for pushing the Weld and Beymer romance more, but Thomas gets a lion’s share of screen time in comparison. Then again, he’s being chased by bikini-clad young women (who also look too old to be in school) so that may explain his more generous screen time.

Director Tashlin was ready for a rom-com in familiar waters. He began his directing career with animated Looney Tune features in the 1930s and 1940s. With a strong instinct for slapstick and physical comedy, Tashlin transitioned to feature films, directing films starring powerhouses such as Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Jayne Mansfield, and Doris Day.

Fascinating trivia. What do Marilyn Monroe and Debbie Reynolds have in common with this film? There’s a little mystery surrounding a dress worn by Roxanne Arlen as “Mrs. Roberts,” a neighbor. At first sight it is clearly a copy of one of the most famous dresses in fashion in film history, the ‘subway dress’ worn by Marilyn Monroe in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. But could it be the actual Marilyn dress designed by Travilla, which was later auctioned as part of the Debbie Reynolds collection? Was it loaned out by the studio for this film and altered to fit this actress? Many rumors and speculations have circled over the decades to this mystery. This article from The Marilyn Monroe Collection site breaks down the details. What do you think?

Is this the real deal- or a knock-off?

I believe 60s sex comedies are highly misunderstood. They’ve been given a bad rap as too silly and misogynistic. But I contend these films like BACHELOR FLAT are actually a parody of sexism and rooted in a deep history of physical comedy with nods to slapstick and screwball comedy. And who doesn’t long for the nostalgia of the summer flicks of our youth?

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This piece on Frank Tashlin’s BACHELOR FLAT (1961) is my contribution to the CMBA (Classic Movie Blog Association) Spring Blogathon. I am a proud member of this group of talented writers. Please explore the other bloggers’ submissions for this year’s “Fun in the Sun” theme.

Comments

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one, Kellee, but I agree with your take that ’60s sex comedies were intended as parodies.
    There were the roles Tuesday Weld turned down and the ones she was considered for. I’ve read that she was initial choice for Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby. She would’ve been interesting. She would’ve interesting in just about any role; she’s a fine, underappreciated actress.

    Like

  2. Interesting post. I’ve not seen this, but I totally agree that the sex comedies of the 60s are terrible misunderstood. It’s amazing how well they hold up. And poor Terry-Thomas. I recently read about his later year. Such a sad story. Happy summer!

    Like

  3. Really enjoyed this review, especially your point about Arden and Holm not getting the leads!

    Like

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