Jan 20, 2009

Donald Duck and Ginger Rogers

Ginger at work, winding Donald. Check out the version wearing what looks like a sombrero behind her.

Lovers of classic film often double as lovers of everyday items from the same era--clothes, magazines, housewares--or toys. Watch enough films of the 1930s and occasionally a famous face will spring out from the prop settings : Betty Boop, Snow White, Bugs Bunny, etc. It's always a treat to see something that would be a vauluable collectible now featured then as what it was meant to be in the first place--an inexpensive child's plaything. There are many examples. This might be the most extensive: in a really fine comedy from a great year for movies, Garson Kanin''s 1939 film "Bachelor Mother" has terrific performances from Ginger Rogers, David Niven, the incomparable Charles Coburn--and Donald Duck.

It's quite a display of product placement: Disney providing numerous sizes and permutations of Donald Duck toys for their distributor, RKO. And one particular windup waddling, quacking Donald has a crucial role throughout--right up to the denoument of the story. Curiously, although the Duck is in the film as part of a large department store's toy department stock, I've spotted no glimpses of Mickey or any other Disney characters on the set. It's all Donald--dozens and dozens of him.

Bachelor Mother is such a well-written and cleverly plotted comedy--one of the very funniest of its era. That it could be made at all well after the Production Code was in full effect is a testament to--well, I don't know what, but it has some really wild double entendres (and some flat out jaw-droppers), unsurprising as the story is one of an unwed mother--albeit a mistaken one. It just works, squeezing comedy out of every opportunity, as well as some charming if improbably screwball romance.

He even features in a brief, slightly hallucinogenic montage

The screen caps here (only a few of The Duck's scenes represented) are from a colorized version on YouTube; it was made in glorious black and white and should be seen that way. Look for it on Turner Classic Movies.
Your trivia for the week.

quacking away


Anonymous said...

My favorite Disney/live action cross-over is Clark Gable singing "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" in It Happened One Night. Right down to the "tra-la-la-la-la".

Thad said...

Colorized. BLECCH.

Michael Sporn said...

TCM's site has another great still with Donald featured prominently:


Jenny Lerew said...

Tom Pope-yes, that's a really fun reference. It shows better any historian could what a HUGE pop culture hit the Three Little Pigs was. I'm pretty sure too that I've heard "Wolf" sung in another mainstream feature film of the 30s or 40s--but with the wrong tune, which I always put down to avoiding paying the songwriter(if those ASCAP rules were in effect back then). Gable however sings it straight.

Michael, thanks for pointing me to that. I had looked at the TCM entry and totally missed the link to photos! I'll borrow it later and post it.

Thad: yes, that's how most of us buffs feel...FWIW Ted Turner-back when he was adamant that colorization was the only way people would watch those films-did get the very best people to do the best possible job to work on the "color" versions shown on his channel(vs the sometimes awful jobs done on PD films ad nauseum, like "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Meet John Doe").
Also to Ted's credit, he changed his mind(probably after a lot of convincing by hardcore buffs) and got off the colorization wagon...he also has been a huge factor in restoring($$$) and of course, actually showing these films on TCM, so my hat's off to the man. God knows where we'd be if TCM didn't exist these last 20 years.

Lauren said...

This is an old post here, but I have to say I really liked reading this! I was wondering if that was really Donald, or it just looked a lot like him.
I loved Bachelor Mother!! When I saw it in a movie theatre it was even better because I liked hearing other people laugh out loud.


Treasures By Brenda said...

Fascinating. I've just been asked and am looking around for a wind up Donald Duck similar to the one in Bachelor Mother. That's how I found your interesting post.