Ralph Levy’s Bedtime Story isn’t for kids, but anyone tuning in to catch the opening credits would be excused for thinking they were about to watch a kids film. More Rankin/Bass special than sex comedy, all of the actors’ names appear in the pages of a book, and while that’s not unusual (other films have done that, too), this isn’t a leatherbound volume suited for adults. It’s a colorful, pop-up book, like the kind you would see in a fairy tale.
Sure enough, both David Niven and Marlo Brando are introduced using fairy tale terms to describe their characters. Niven is the “prince” who cheats rich women out of their jewels by telling them sob stories about how his people need money. Brando is the wolf who feeds on Little Red Ridings Hoods with tales of a sick grandmother who’s forever changing nationalities.
Like Strangers on a Train, except with conmen instead of murderers, Freddy (Brando) underestimates Jameson (Niven) when they first meet and doesn’t recognize a fellow swindler. As soon as that changes, though, it’s a question of whether they’ll be partners or competitors, with Shirley Jones’ Janet acting as the test case to find out who’s the better liar.
Debonair and charming isn’t a stretch for Niven. If anything, Jameson is the quintessential Niven role – classy, well dressed, able to get away with more than most due to sheer charisma. The reason Niven was cast in these roles, though, is because he was excellent at them, and Bedtime Story is no different.
With Brando, however, most of his revered performances are in dramas, making his performance in Bedtime Story the more revelatory one. There’s a fearlessness to his comedy that’s essential to pulling off some of the film’s more outrageous jokes and what’s different about Bedtime Story compared to other sex comedies (and film historians, Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, go over this in their commentary) is that Freddy and Jameson are considered monsters. Whereas other films from the ’60s might include these kinds of antics without criticizing them, this is very much a dark comedy that’s aware that its two leads are despicable and despicable people can succeed (especially if they understand psychology like Freddy and Jameson do when they need to make these women stop wanting to get married).
Is it insulting that none of the females in this movie present a challenge to them? Yeah, it might be nice if they weren’t all such easy targets, but Bedtime Story is a comedy and a very funny one where the jokes come from how blackhearted these guys are (and whether they’ll ever draw the line somewhere). Written by Stanley Shapiro (Pillow Talk) and Paul Henning (The Beverly Hillbillies), the main menu for Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray uses a different poster than the cover. This poster plays up on the fact that Brando is American, and Niven is British, and it’s a really adorable design, where the font for the main menu choices was well chosen to match the art. Bedtime Story would later be remade in the ’80s as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Berger and Thompson discuss some of the differences between the two films in their commentary. If you like either of the two leads you should consider picking Bedtime Story up.
Bedtime Story is available on Blu-Ray and DVD starting December 14th from Kino Lorber.