Bachelor Flat (DVD Review)9 Jun, 2014 By: Mike Clark
Available via Fox Cinema Archive
Stars Tuesday Weld, Terry-Thomas, Richard Beymer, Celeste Holm.
In the summer of 1970 when I was beginning graduate work in NYU’s Cinema Studies program, one of the theaters in Greenwich Village (and to my surprised chagrin, there were damned few) ran what had to have been the first-ever Tuesday Weld retrospective. Though launched in part with a wink, it was also in recognition of Weld’s still memorable, cult-oriented performances in the likes of Lord Love a Duck and Pretty Poison, which were not too far removed from the minds of in-the-know cineastes — if not official tastemakers who could never get by her over-the-top (for its day) first name. Despite lugging around that albatross, Weld was a babe who could do comedy (TV’s “The Adventures of Dobie Gillis” had been a super proving-ground showcase) and probably would have been unmatchable as Lolita had the stars aligned to land her the Kubrick role for which she apparently contended.
Frank Tashlin’s Bachelor Flat also showed up in the Village retrospective and deservedly so due to her — though the great Andrew Sarris was way off base in his landmark The American Cinema when he called it Tashlin’s best film. There are some Tashlins on which I’m not up to snuff (I last saw The Lieutenant Wore Skirts at age 9 when it came out in 1956), but Flat is absolutely inferior to The First Time, Son of Paleface, Susan Slept Here, Artists and Models, The Girl Can’t Help It, Hollywood or Bust, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, The Geisha Boy, Who’s Minding the Store? and I suspect a couple more of the director’s Jerry Lewis collaborations unseen by me in years. Who knows what Sarris was thinking, but maybe it was just male hormones because Weld is quite the sexy bundle here.
Based on a play — and the dialogue sometimes sounds like it — the premise springs from the fact that American females love everything British, which considering what happened a couple years later possibly means the movie was a couple years ahead of its time. To this end, all kinds of women have their eyes on a beach-town anthropology professor played by Terry-Thomas, who was starting to get work in Hollywood movies even in this period before It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. His character is, however, engaged to a kind of international whirling dervish played by Celeste Holm — who allows him to use her beach house but hasn’t mentioned her 17-year-old daughter (Weld) who shows up and pretends to be someone else’s delinquent. The prof’s unlikely young friend (Richard Beymer) lives in an adjacent trailer and, of course, gets interested in the blonde visitor. Beymer was coming off West Side Story at this time, where he was all Super Panavision 70 teeth (which I believe even he has admitted). Here, Beymer has changed photographic processes: his teeth are in CinemaScope.
The movie reminds me of some of the late Blake Edwards farces where the director’s widescreen framing ability remained unsurpassed but went for naught (or at least partial naught) because his material was so labored. Visually, the movie is a pleasure — from an early classroom scene of primping female students that’s unmistakably Tashlin-eque to the way the director photographs someone in long shot amid an otherwise uncluttered extreme rectangle. Though this is using the frame creatively in a manner that many post-Scope Fox directors didn’t do, I just wish the script had a lot more of the director’s trademark wackiness, even if we do get a little taste of the movie beach-culture yet to come. Fox dumped Bachelor Flat into the second week of January, which means that American International’s genre-launching Beach Party with Frankie and Annette was more than a year-and-a-half away. Surf pics then became so ubiquitous after this point that they were ripe for brutal spoofing by early 1966. That’s where Weld and Lord Love a Duck came in.