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A BEDTIME STORY (Paramount, 1933), directed by Norman Taurog, is a cute and simple story about how fate steps in and changes the life of a Frenchman playboy for the sake of an abandoned baby. The Frenchman in question is Rene (Maurice Chevalier), whose introduction to the story being the focus of his straw hat twirling on top of his cane, exiting the train onto the station in Paris after spending some time away big game hunting in Africa. Because no one is aware of his early arrival, Rene makes arrangements to spend an hour with not one, but three attractive young ladies at separate times: Suzanne (Betty Lorraine), a florist; Gabrielle (Leah Ray), a night club singer; and Paulette (Adrienne Ames), now married to the ever jealous Max (Earle Foxe), who makes no qualms about remaining "friends" with him. Although engaged, Rene does not let his arrival be known to his fiancé, Louise (Gertrude Michael), so to have a little fling before getting married. As he telephones the aforementioned ladies, Rene's luggage is being packed into his car while at the same time, a poor couple (Frank Reicher and Ethel Wales), formerly maid and butler, find they are unable to care for their now deceased employer's child, attempt to find him a good home by placing the orphaned baby (Baby LeRoy) in the back seat of Rene's car. That night in Rene's apartment, the baby is brought to the attention of his servant, Victor (Edward Everett Horton). Rene decides to unload the child by calling the authorities, but rather than having the boy placed in an orphanage, Rene decides to keep the child he calls "Monsieur Baby." By doing this, Rene forgets about his ladies in waiting, all awaiting his arrival that never happens. With the baby in the care of the two men, Rene calls for a governess/nurse, who turns out to be a stranded American showgirl named Sally (Helen Twelvetrees), whom he hires. All appears to go well until Rene attends a function hosted by his fiancé, Louise, who becomes humiliated not so much by the presence of Sally and Victor, but with the baby, and makes it known that she doesn't want that "M'sieur Baby" into their lives.
A musical that might have played as either a straight light comedy or drama, the writers inserted some songs into the scenario, all sung during the first hour so not to take away from Chevalier's image. Unlike some of his earlier works on film, Chevalier doesn't sing directly into the camera, but to the ever attention of Baby LeRoy. With music and lyrics by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, songs include: "Look What I've Got?" (sung by Leah Ray); "M'Sieu Baby"(sung by Chevalier to LeRoy); "In the Park in Paree" (sung by Chevalier as he strolls LeRoy in his baby carriage); and "Home Made Heaven" (sung by Chevalier to Helen Twelvetrees). With "Home Made Heaven" being the film's best liked tune, the most memorable happens to be the one not sung by Chevalier. "Look What I've Got" might not sound like a familiar song title, but the score is, having been used as background music in one of the funnier scenes of the most revived comedy of INTERNATIONAL HOUSE (1933) involving Peggy Hopkins Joyce and W.C. Fields taking separate showers in the same hotel room. "M'sieur Baby" as sung by Chevalier to Baby LeRoy, might have been inspired by Al Jolson's lullaby of "Sonny Boy" to his three-year-old son in THE SINGING FOOL (1928), but "M'sieur Baby" never became noteworthy. Unlike THE SINGING FOOL, A BEDTIME STORY is geared more towards comedy than drama. There is a touch of sentiment, however, in a scene where Chevalier kisses his new found son, followed by him lifting his head up proud and holding back tears of joy.
Baby LeRoy, making his movie debut, is best remembered today as the comic foil to comedian W.C. Fields in such notable comedies as TILLIE AND GUS (1933), THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY and IT'S A GIFT (both 1934). His career ended by the time he reached the age of four in 1935. Helen Twelvetrees, in her only performance opposite Chevalier, has charm but lacks the sort of charisma found in some of his other leading ladies as Claudette Colbert and Jeanette MacDonaldt. Gertrude Michael steps in once again on screen playing one of her many unreasonable, jealous characterizations, a sort of role she specialized in at that time.
Virtually forgotten today and a lesser achievement to some of his best films, especially those under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch, A BEDTIME STORY, is Chevalier's movie from start to finish, though Edward Everett Horton and Baby LeRoy come close to nearly stealing it. Baby LeRoy gets all the cute closeups and dubbed-in baby sounds, as well acquiring watches to break by crashing them onto the floor. When being taken for a stroll, the baby looks directly at the big clock attached to the street pole, leaving Chevalier to reply, "Be reasonable! Be reasonable!" Horton as Chevalier's manservant, brings all his familiarity into his role. One amusing scene has him giving Rene a shave, and during their conversation, learns that one of his employer's many girlfriends happens to be his wife, leaving Rene to sit motionless as Victor coldly uses the razor blade shaving around his neck, leaving Rene to sit back and wonder if he'll do anything drastic. Cleaver touch of suspense comedy.
There have been several movies over the years bearing the title of A BEDTIME STORY, but while the story has been revamped in different ways, this screenplay by Waldemar Young has never been remade nor has it ever been distributed on video cassette. However, it did have limited revivals on the American Movie Classics cable channel from February to November of 1989. With this being the only pairing of Chevalier and Baby LeRoy, this is their story captured on film. (***)
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