When it is revealed that he is the son of a recently deceased professional criminal, respected college Prof. Peter Boyd (Ronald Reagan) enters the “nature vs. nurture” debate as he sets out to teach orphaned chimpanzee Bonzo the differences between “right” and “wrong.” He hires beautiful young nanny Jane Linden (Diana Lynn) to assist in the project, not thinking his fiancé Dr. Valerie Tillinghast (Lucille Barkley) – the Dean’s (Herbert Heyes) beloved daughter – would misconstrue what is going on between the two.
Bedtime for Bonzo has been the butt of a lot of jokes over the decades, so it’s easy to forget veteran director Frederick De Cordova’s (For the Love of Mary) silly romantic comedy released in 1951 was a box office hit that spawned a sequel – Bonzo Goes to College – one year later. Honestly? Elements are certainly dated, and some of the key sequences involving star Peggy the Chimp play a bit odd if you happen to watch (or, in my case rewatch), Jordan Peele’s Nope immediately before you take a look at this. But overall the film is mostly pretty harmless, and chances are the viewer will happily chuckle multiple times.
People forget that Reagan was a pretty good actor, performances in Santa Fe Trail and Kings Row speaking for themselves. But he can be a tad stiff at times, and that’s certainly the case in this, especially in his scenes with Barkley. Granted, their characters aren’t the ones who are destined to end the film together, so maybe some of their unnatural back and forth was by design.
Reagan is much more relaxed and pleasantly goofy during his moments with costar Walter Slezak. As fellow processor Hans Nuemann, the veteran character actor is an absolute delight who – next to Peggy, of course – might be the best thing in the entire movie. In fact, it’s noticeable whenever Slezak is not on the screen, and it’s hard not to wish the story focused more on his character’s relationship with his fellow educator and their dealings with Bonzo than it does the blossoming romance between Boyd and Linden.
Speaking of Lynn, she’s absolutely darling as the initially perplexed nanny. A veteran character actress who never broke out (and doesn’t even appear in the sequel), she’s still charming enough in this, her scenes with Reagan having an overall endearing quality that suits both the romantic and comedic elements nicely.
Listen, Bedtime for Bonzo is not one of the romantic comedy greats of the 1950s. It has issues. Several pieces have not aged well, and the film’s whole thesis revolving around whether or not the ability to discern between “right” and “wrong” is an inherited trait doesn’t play particularly well seven decades after the film’s original theatrical release.
But taken on its own terms De Cordova’s comedy is better than its reputation would lead most to believe. It’s worth checking out.
Bedtime for Bonzo is presented on a 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.37:1 1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack and includes optional English SDH subtitles.
Extras here include:
Audio Commentary with film historian Eddy Von Mueller
Original Theatrical Trailer (0:55)
Also included are trailers for My Favorite Blonde, Francis Goes to the Races, No Time for Love and Murder, He Says.
Bedtime for Bonzo is funny enough, and as dated as elements of the film may be, overall it’s pretty harmless. Kino’s Blu-ray presentation is solid, and historian Eddy Von Mueller once again provides a lovably professorial commentary track.