22 December 2007 | Bunuel1976
BEDTIME STORY (Ralph Levy, 1964) ***
Before tackling the film proper, I'd like to point out some fascinating trivia first: originally, this was planned with Cary Grant and Rock Hudson in mind who were to compete for Doris Day and, allegedly, it was almost revived as a starring vehicle for (brace yourselves) David Bowie and Mick Jagger (!!)
before saner minds prevailed and we got DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988) with Michael Caine and Steve Martin replacing David Niven and Marlon Brando respectively instead. Anyway, the premise was quite original at the time rival con-men decide to collaborate but clash over fleecing a woman who turns out to be poor and the film itself was actually better than I was expecting: in any case, "The most vulgar and embarrassing film of the year" as The Daily Express had deemed the film on its release it certainly wasn't!
Given that BEDTIME STORY was one of Brando's efforts from his lean period (and, uncharacteristically, a comedy at that), I didn't have high hopes for it initially especially since some of the other "comedies" I had seen Brando in had been pretty desperate attempts: A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG (1967) and CANDY (1968; see above). Still, that the Method actor was capable of handling lighter material than the brooding dramas he was best-known for, was already evident early on in his career with GUYS AND DOLLS (1955) and THE TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON (1956), but this is perhaps his most engaging performance in this field; that said, it's rather disquieting to see him mugging like a Jerry Lewis wannabe (when posing as Niven's half-wit brother)! His co-star isn't particularly taxed by his role having often played the roué, it's one he could have done in his sleep but he's always good value in this type of light entertainment; ditto Shirley Jones, who plays it more or less straight.
The delightful opening, lending fairy-tale connotations to the narrative (hence the title) and the various schemes by which the two male stars attempt to outwit one another in order to obtain Jones' favors (and, in the process, her money) constitute the film's highlights; these include the famous scene in which Brando poses as a paraplegic recalling his celebrated debut performance in Fred Zinnemann's powerful social drama THE MEN (1950) as a result of which Jones arranges for him to be "cured" by renowned shrink Niven!
I watched the film via the R2 DVD from Orbit Media, presenting the Universal film in a full-screen format; I haven't been able to ascertain what the original aspect ratio was, but I didn't find the compositions overly compromised; for the record, BEDTIME STORY is still unavailable on R1 DVD and one wonders what held it from being included in Universal's four-film 2-Disc Set of "The Marlon Brando Franchise Collection"...