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Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) – DVD Review


Written by Val Burton and Lou Breslow
Directed by Frederick De Cordova
Starring Ronald Reagan, Diana Lynn, Walter Slezak, Herbert Heyes, and Bonzo as Himself

Released by: Universal.
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Don’t bother.

Professor Peter Boyd (Reagan) is having problems with family. First, it surfaces that Boyd’s father was a notorious conman and died in prison. This would cause a stir but this news upsets Boyd’s future father-in-law Dean Tillinghast (Heyes). Tillinghast is a big advocate of Nature over Nurture and doesn’t want his grandchildren to be criminal masterminds. Boyd thinks that the idea of genetics determines all is a load of bullshit but doesn’t tell him how far he can shove his elitist eugenics stupidity up his ass because the dean’s daughter wants her daddy’s blessing. Boyd decides that since they are both men of science, he will show the dean the errors of his ways scientifically.

Boyd plans to take the college’s rambunctious chimp Bonzo to his house and raise him like a human child so Bonzo will learn right from wrong and other proper human behaviors. Since Bonzo acts like a hyperactive two year old with the agility of an Olympic gymnast, Prof. Boyd hires young Jane Linden (Lynn) to be Bonzo’s nanny. Jane adds maternal compassion and love to the professor’s experiment and she hopes to add that love to the professor as well. Boyd may be taught some things about life along with Bonzo if he can handle the comical unforeseen consequences of his research.

If you grew up in the Reagan Era, you knew about Bedtime for Bonzo. We all saw that picture with Reagan and the monkey with the face of someone from his administration superimposed over the chimp’s. Usually after they’d been indicted. But how many people have actually seen this movie? It’s similar to A Christmas Carol: we all know the story, but how many have read the actual text? So when I saw that the movie was available, I felt obligated to see it so to satisfy my curiosity.

It turns out that this is only a mild comedy. The writing and plot are about at the level of a sitcom that lasts only one season. It is interesting to see Ronald Reagan back in the day. I’m sure most of us seeing The Great Communicator looking young will be a new experience. And Reagan does have presence on screen. The problem is Reagan is not putting any of that presence into the character. I couldn’t see any effort to make the character of Professor Boyd distinctive or separate from Reagan the person. I realize this was a “B” picture but couldn’t he put a little effort into it?

Still, you can see why he went into politics with that charisma. And to give him credit, he managed to hold his own with a monkey. There’s not much else to say about this very conventional comedy which makes the lack of DVD extras understandable. Still, couldn’t they find some footage of Reagan talking about the film to include? Bedtime For Bonzo is not to be feared, but neither is it to be loved. I’d give it a pass.

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