“Bedtime Story” (1964)

Rotten Tomatoes



Co-stars: David Niven, Shirley Jones

Character: Freddy Benson

Welcome back from the dead, Marlon Brando movie project! Wow, I watched this film a few weeks ago, and am only writing the post right now. I’m going to keep this brief though, so as to not prolong my suffering. What can I say that hasn’t been said by a critic already? I don’t know. But I’m going to try.

Bedtime Story was Brando’s first, and only, starring turn in a direct genre comedy. It tells the story of two con men, Freddy Benson and Lawrence Jameson, who swindle women for sex and money. Brando’s Benson is an American soldier stationed in Germany, and his scam with women involves targeting attractive women, photographing their houses, and pretending that the houses are his sick grandmother’s childhood home. Jameson, meanwhile, lives in a chalet on the French Riviera, and pretends to be a displaced European prince in order to separate rich women from their jewels. The two men meet and briefly work together, Benson usually portraying Jameson’s “special” younger brother. Eventually, the men come to feel that they both can’t work the same town, and create a competition where the first man to separate a woman from $25,000 (I think, don’t quote me on that) gets to stay, and the other has to lead town.

The main problems with this film are the script, and the direction. The script  falls flat, with dull dialogue and predictable outcomes. The direction is bland and uninspired, leaving the actors to their own devices. The general consensus of the film is that David Niven carries it, and while he is a comic legend, his decidedly British aesthetic whimpers and dies below the dead weight of the dialogue. Brando’s character calls for more physical comedy, unlike Niven’s refined “gentleman”. He hams it up with silly faces, voices, and sudden bursts of energy. While playing the “special” young prince during the two men’s collaborative cons, he leaps about, climbs up walls, and growls at rich ladies. It’s one of the few laughable parts of the film, but a big part of it is the ridiculousness of seeing the brilliant and legendary Brando leapfrog about in a prince costume while growling and acting like a toddler. It’s bizarre.

The premise of the film is clever and entertaining, but the execution is tepid and painfully predictable. The ending is especially grueling with it’s grossly moral happy ending. However, the film was unofficially remade in 1988 as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, to much more critical and commercial success. That film was turned into a 2005 stage musical of the same name starring John Lithgow. It can be so interesting to find out a film’s legacy, especially when a film is less than notable.

Brando said that this film was one of the most enjoyable he ever made, as he got to work with a comedic actor he respected and have a lot of laughs on set. It is visibly clear that the man is enjoying himself throughout the film, but he is held back by poor source material and a lack of natural talent for comedy acting. It made it his most contrived work to date. Even Désirée, where he simply didn’t seem to care, was not this contrived. As well, I personally couldn’t help but feel that the now 40 year old Brando playing a younger soldier was a bit silly. While still handsome and youthful featured, it had been 13 years since he was in Streetcar, and he had clearly aged. But I digress. Overall, the film is mildly amusing but generally lukewarm, and left me shaking my head and with the feeling that doing the household chores would have been an ultimately more rewarding experience. Thumbs down.

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1 Response to ““Bedtime Story” (1964)”

  1. July 30, 2013 at 4:57 am

    Hola! I’ve been reading your weblog for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the fantastic job!

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