Johnny Rutledge (William Holden) is rootless bachelor who works for a traveling medicine show. When his employer is arrested, Johnny finds himself cooling his heels in a small town, while awaiting his employer’s release.
While out fishing he comes across a small cabin where the five young Chalotte siblings live. The oldest child confesses that his parents are dead and he is trying to keep the family together. Johnny feels sorry for them, but explains to young January that he can’t stick around to help. Past experiences have left him with a distaste for anything resembling roots or commitment. Still Johnny finds himself drawn to these children named after the months of the year. He also finds himself more and more intertwined in their lives.
When the beautiful Prudence (Coleen Gray) stops by the Chalotte home and discovers the children living there without adult supervision, Johnny steps in to keep them from being split up. But can this roaming bachelor really transform into a stable family man?
Father Is a Bachelor was a delightful little surprise. I had never heard of this film before watching it and am not a particular fan of William Holden. While working my way through several of his early film titles, I stumbled across this little gem.
This is rather creative casting, putting Holden in this role. He is mostly known for his dramatic roles and good looks. But he is almost believable as a traveling singer whose only real ambition is finding time to fish. His initial refusal to help the orphaned siblings seems selfish. But his true nature eventually reveals itself as the movie progresses. This is a man who keeps his compassionate heart well-hidden but still finds himself bewildered as he takes on more and more “parental” responsibilities. I particularly enjoyed watching him try to sew a new dress for May after he ruins her only one.
The child actors playing the Chalotte siblings are naturals. Mary Jane Saunders is a stand out as May the youngest and only girl in the group. She is cute without being cloying. I found it odd, but also rather charming that each child was named for a month. But I felt sorry that poor April was actually a boy. Young Jan (January) had a heavy load on his shoulders trying to keep their parents’ death a secret from the youngest sibling while also keeping them fed and clothed. His character shines brightest in a scene when Johnny uses a trick coin to extract a higher payment for a cord of wood Jan is trying to sell. Jan insists on chopping more wood to give to the buyer, because it isn’t honest to cheat.
There are additional story lines woven into the film, including a romance between Johnny and Prudence, a conflict between Johnny and the town’s wealthiest resident, as well as a coerced engagement between Johnny and a local spinster. But the heart of this film is the love and care that develop between Johnny and the Chalotte’s.
There is nothing exciting or ground-breaking about Father Is a Bachelor. Instead it is a sweet film that moves at a slow Southern style crawl. This one left me with a warm glow and an appreciation for loyalty, self-sacrifice and family. If you are looking to have your faith in man restored or to escape business and demands of daily life, then this is the perfect antidote.