Pretty Baby (1950)

Pretty Baby stars Betsy Drake as Patsy Douglas, an ambitious girl who runs the mimeograph machine at an advertising agency.  After mornings spent trying in vain to get a seat on the subway, she passes her days cranking out copies of soap opera scripts while daydreaming of becoming a copywriter.  She also daydreams about her boss, Sam Morley (Dennis Morgan), on whom she has a crush.

When the agency loses its biggest account, Baxter’s Baby Food, Patsy takes a baby doll (nicknamed Cyrus, after  Mr. Baxter) from the disassembled display in the agency’s lobby, wraps it in a blanket, and uses it to get a seat on the subway.  Men may not give up their seats for all ladies, but they do give them up for mothers carrying babies!

One evening Patsy sits next to a grumpy old man (Edmund Gwenn), telling him that her baby is Cyrus Baxter Douglas, and that he’s named after the wonderful man who runs Baxter’s Baby Food.  Unbeknownst to her, the old man whose leg she is pulling is Mr. Cyrus Baxter himself.  Mr. Baxter is so touched that this young woman has named her baby after him that he determines to help her and her child however he can.  He gets her a promotion at work, which her bosses at the agency go along with only because they think Patsy has a relationship with Mr. Baxter that will help them win back his business.

The rest is a round of  predictably wacky misunderstandings.  All three men think Patsy is an unwed mother.  Mr. Baxter suspects one of the bosses of being the baby’s father.  Patsy has to hide the doll from Mr. Baxter every time he unexpectedly drops by, for fear of letting him know the truth of her deception.  Her bosses don’t want her to ruin their chances to win back the account, after all.  Besides, Patsy doesn’t want to hurt Baxter, whose tough shell has been cracked by his affection for Patsy and the fake baby he’s never even seen.

Meanwhile, Patsy shows no talent for copywriting (her jingles are awful), but she does inspire Mr. Morley to be true to himself creatively.  Of course he falls in love with her.

Betsy Drake is cute, Edmund Gwenn is hilarious and touching, and even Dennis Morgan, who normally doesn’t do much for me, is lots of fun.  At one point he sings “Pretty Baby” to Drake through a transom window, which is utterly goofy.  He had a lovely voice, though!

Barbara Billingsley and William Frawley have small parts in the movie, a few years before they’d become famous on TV as June Cleaver and Fred Mertz.

Pretty Baby is a completely pleasant, silly, amusing diversion — sort of Every Girl Should be Married meets Bachelor Mother.  Well, maybe Bundle of Joy more than Bachelor Mother, quality-wise.  If you’re in the mood for something heartwarming, fun, and not too much of a strain on the brain, this is it.  TCM airs it sometimes, and it’s also available from the Warner Archive.


Room For One More

My quest to watch Cary Grant movies I’ve never seen before continues.  Thanks to Warner’s awesome “Warner Archives” project (more about that in a bit) I was finally able to see Room For One More, a 1952 film co-starring Cary’s then-wife Betsy Drake.

I don’t recall ever seeing Room For One More on TCM’s schedule or anywhere else on TV for that matter, which is a shame because it’s really good!  A funny, touching family comedy/drama with fine performances by Grant and Drake, as well as the child actors.

I love seeing Cary in harried father roles like this one, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and Houseboat.  He’s so much fun to watch with children, and he enjoyed working with them.  Some critics look down their noses at the roles he took in the late ’40s and early ’50s, between his early screwball comedy phase and his later Hitchcock phase, but there’s some good stuff there.  The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer always gets short shrift, for instance, but I think it’s hilarious.  Maybe not a masterpiece like Bringing Up Baby or North by Northwest, but lots of fun.

Grant is great as a husband and father in this movie – always a little crabby and put-upon, frustrated with the shenanigans of his wife and kids but loving and warm at heart.  Also still frisky with his wife, who sadly has little time for all that, what with taking care of a houseful of children and pets.  (What is she, nuts?  You  make the time for Cary!  Heh.) 

Betsy Drake is the best part of Room For One More.  She gives a lovely, tender, funny performance as a woman whose heart is too big to let her turn anyone in need away, from stray neighborhood animals to a couple of “problem children” in desperate need of a stable foster home.  You just love her, and you can see why Cary’s character loves her too, in spite of how exasperated he gets with his overflowing house and emptying wallet.  Grant and Drake have a comfortable, loving chemistry together.  Sometimes real life couples don’t have much onscreen spark, but they do.

Very, very sweet movie.  Kind of corny in a wholesome 1950s way, but it has a good, uplifting message about giving of yourself and about what really makes a family.  It’s a lot of fun too, and has some laugh out loud moments.  Track it down if you can! 

Back to the Warner Archives.  Warner has a huge library of movies from Warner Bros., MGM, and RKO, many more than they can quickly mass produce and market, so they came up with the fantastic idea of opening up their vaults and letting people order movies, either by online download or on DVDs created on demand.  There’s an article about it here.  An excerpt:

The consumer who visits initially will find 150 classic titles from Warner Bros. Pictures, MGM and RKO that each can be ordered either as a computer download ($14.95) or as a DVD ($19.95) that arrives in the mailbox approximately five days after purchase.

The studio says it intends to bolster that list at the rate of 20 new titles a month — including TV series and TV movies. Many of the movies and shows were once available on video cassette, but none has been on DVD, and many others have never been available for purchase at all.

What a brilliant idea!  It’s so frustrating to want to see something and have to wait for studios to decide when and if it’s time to release it.  I got DVDs of both Room For One More and Mr. Lucky through the archives.  The DVDs don’t have fancy menus or any extra features, but it’s really the film that matters and the quality of those seems to be good. 

Hopefully other studios will follow Warner’s example.  Just imagine all the thousands of little seen but fondly remembered movies out there to be watched! 

(Tops on my “please come out on DVD soon” list:  Midnight Lace starring Doris Day and Rex Harrison, Margie starring Jeanne Crain, Every Girl Should Be Married starring Cary Grant and Betsy Drake, and Dear Heart starring Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page.)

It makes me sort of giddy to think about all the good old movies still waiting to be seen.  Especially considering that the people who made films in the days before TV arrived and started running old movies had no idea there would still be an audience for their work fifty, sixty or seventy years later.  They thought they were making movies that would be seen for a few months then be forgotten, but here we are decades later, still enjoying them.  I think that’s pretty neat.