BEDTIME STORY got a bad rap from critics in 1964, outraged that Marlon Brando would be so gauche as to ‘waste’ his talents in a farce, and it’s generally only mentioned today by dint of being the original version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, a 1988 hit with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. That one may have a sleeker production, but this oldie is surprisingly funny, and the dueling (one would think incompatible) styles of the earthy Brando and suave David Niven bounce off each other quite nicely.
Written by Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning, it has scheme-fond US soldier Brando, stationed in Germany, amusing himself with low-rent hustles, glibly spinning b.s. about ill relatives in order to seduce gullible Frauleins, meeting with upscale con-man Niven, who plies the fakeout trade with greater couth and to a more upmarket set of pigeons. Operating in the French Riviera, the love-soured, carefree, competitive gigolos make bet on who can ‘win over’ (okay, sleep with & fleece) soap fortune heiress Shirley Jones. Is there no basement to their indecency? The advertising tag-line lays laid it out: “The Sin-tillating Capers of Two Cunning Con Men who Fleeced the Sexiest Chicks on the Riviera…until each decided to become king of the mountain !”
First half is okay, second has a lot of laughs. Directed by Ralph Levy *, running 99 minutes, with some airy views of Cannes shopped in with obvious Universal backlot staging. The mix doesn’t look all that polished, but the stars make up for the production skimp, and it’s all in service of sex-battle silliness anyway. With Dody Goodman, Aram Stephen, Parley Baer, Marie Windsor, Norman Alden, Suzanne Cramer, Cynthia Lynn, Francine York and John Banner. Hopeful starlets-at-beckon Barbara Bouchet and Vitina Marcus decorate backgrounds. Despite sneers from the soured grape likes of Judith Crist, it pulled in around $7,000,000, berthing #34 in a year flooded with comedies.**
*Levy was a TV director who only did one other movie, 1965s bleh Do Not Disturb. He shot the 1951 pilot for I Love Lucy and went on to cover 81 episodes of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, 69 for The Jack Benny Program and 50 segments of Petticoat Junction.
**Originally designed as a Day-Hudson team-up to include Cary Grant, that fell through. Hitchcock’s propriety/vindictiveness kept Tippi Hedren out of the role Jones drew. Doris & Rock were on view in ’64 in their last tango, Send Me No Flowers and Grant made do with Father Goose. They were among nearly three dozen comedies released that year. Classics like Dr.Strangelove, The Pink Panther, A Hard Days Night and The World Of Henry Orient and a large share of dreck. SEX! waggled its naughty aspect in a slew, and Bedtime Story is certainly funnier handling the man v.woman horizontal bopping than Goodbye Charlie, Kiss Me Stupid, Sex And The Single Girl, What A Way To Go! or A Global Affair. Apparently it was a kick to film, as Brando loved working with the quip-equipped Niven, and blew take after take by cracking up, trying vainly to keep a straight face.