When Hank Mancini seemingly provided every score. When “salad olives” could be featured on an endcap in a grocery store scene, and they wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. When a 58-year-old Bob Hope could romantically pursue a 40-year-old Lana Turner, and the age difference didn’t come off creepy.
We’re talking “Bachelor in Paradise,” an outlandishly dated but absolutely delightful romantic comedy that still plays with a bit of an edge and a wink of an eye. After all, its entire third act is predicated on the assumption that Hope’s never-married character is sexually satisfying every married woman in the neighborhood. Yet Jack Arnold’s picture — now available as a made-on-demand disc from Warner Archive — manages to come off as a squeaky-clean reflection of the American Dream.
An enormously popular author of world travel books for bachelors, leering ladies’ man A.J. Niles (Hope) is forced to lease a “tract home” in the SoCal suburb of Paradise Village when IRS problems prohibit him from leaving the country. Operating incognito, Niles aims to write a bachelor’s guide to the ‘burbs, where he’s the only unattached male, thereby attracting much attention from all the bored, stay-at-home wives.
Despite outright come-ons and innuendo too suggestive to be innuendo, Niles really only has eyes for the neighborhood sales office’s second-in-command, played by Turner, who comes off as a real ice queen. Strangely, she also looks like your everyday grandmother; remarkably, Hope seems to be her junior.
This is the kind of comfort-based comedy that Hollywood churned out with regularity between the wars of WWII and Vietnam: with no sights set on awards, no reason for being other than offering “a good time was had by all”-style smiles in less than two hours. The script is set up so that everyone, from Paula Prentiss to Agnes Moorehead, recite lines that give Hope ample opportunity to crack wise. Even when his jokes aren’t funny, they’re charming.
“Paradise” is fun even just from a time-capsule point of view, from its now-ancient ideas of submissive wives to the fab, mid-century modern architecture with which the suburb’s “cracker boxes” (as Niles calls them) were designed (dig that fireplace and hidden bar!). Besides Turner’s apparent disinterest in the whole thing, the only weak link is watching Jim Hutton overplay his character by a power of three, but even that adds to the film’s genial, Ward-and-June-Cleaver nature.
Yeah, I loved it. —Rod Lott