Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Say Good Night, Bonzo

I've heard that Ronald Reagan regarded it as his least favorite of the films he made during his movie career.

And how anyone else feels about it may depend upon whether that person tended to agree or disagree with Reagan politically.

For his part, Reagan said he never watched it — and who could blame him?

Personally, I would have to say that "Bedtime for Bonzo," which made its debut on this day in 1951, wasn't all that good. I found it predictable ... and, for the most part, boring. It was white bread. Stale white bread, for that matter.

Not everyone felt that way, though. "Forget what you've been led to believe," writes Hal Erickson for AllMovie.com. "Bedtime for Bonzo is a most enjoyable film."

I wouldn't call it "enjoyable." I have other words for it.

It's the old "nature vs. nurture" argument, which could have been presented more effectively. Reagan played a college professor who was trying to teach morals to a chimpanzee. Reagan's character was a bachelor, and he decided that he would need a mother to complete the study.

What followed was, as I say, predictable.

I will admit, though, that there were times when I found the dialogue unexpectedly amusing.

Like the time when Reagan says to co–star Diana Lynn, "You're no dope. You couldn't be. You haven't a university degree and you don't teach logic."

In the context of the rest of Reagan's career and life, that really sounds like something he might have said.

I heard that, 30 years ago, during Reagan's first successful campaign for the presidency, some people wanted to air this movie as a kind of reverse political statement — implying something along the lines of "Do you want someone who once read a bedtime story to a chimp to be president of the United States?"

But then I heard more plausible stories that, because of laws requiring "equal time" for candidates for political office, no TV station would show the film before the election. If they did, they would have to provide the same amount of time and charge the same fee to the opposition — and no one was willing to provide 83 minutes of air time to Reagan's rivals.

That made sense to me. Not once during the 1980 campaign did I see "Bedtime for Bonzo" on the TV schedule.

I eventually saw the movie a few years after Reagan was elected. But I only saw it once. That was enough.

I rarely agreed with Reagan on anything, but I will admit that I agreed with him on that point. "Bedtime for Bonzo" was a waste of time.