Bachelor Party, The (1957) - full review!
One might be tempted to label this drama "dated", however, as was typical, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky provided it with a story that is both insightful and (still) enduring today. Though the setup is rather contrived (a 30+ year old virgin male find himself about to be married to a more experienced war widow that also happens to be his distant cousin), every man questions: who he is, what he’s become or what he will be if he continues down his current path, and/or his spouse and the state of his marriage at some point during his life ... and the truth isn't always pretty. While some of the events in the movie are "out of date" (e.g. the men watch stag films in a bachelor's apartment in lieu of going to a strip club), the story and its underlying themes remain as fresh as ever.
Don Murray is top billed in his second film role, after earning his only Academy recognition with a Best Supporting Actor nomination (in his screen debut) for playing a rodeo hick hunk opposite Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop (1956). Initially, the focus of the plot appears to be on Murray's character Charlie and his wife Helen (Patricia Smith); they're a young couple, past the newlywed stage, and they've just learned that she's pregnant with (what would be) their first child. He goes to night school attempting to earn a degree for eventual advancement while she spends nights alone in their apartment, with television or her sister-in-law Julie (Nancy Marchand) to keep her company. Still, Helen encourages Charlie to skip school that evening to attend the titled event and enjoy a much needed respite from his daily grind. When Charlie gets to work that morning, the party's other would be participants (all bookkeepers, by profession) are introduced: two are married, and somewhat henpecked, and two are bachelors:
The film is also notable for earning Carolyn Jones her only Oscar nomination (Supporting Actress); she plays the Existentialist, an oversexed Greenwich Village philosopher that the men (specifically Charlie) encounter during the evening. You'll remember the performance for the speed of her (line) delivery as much as anything (plus, she looks a little like a young dark-haired Bette Davis). Otherwise, you might wonder if her performance was the shortest ever to be Oscar nominated; ironically, that record is held by Beatrice Straight's stint in Chayefsky's prescient drama Network (1976), which was decades ahead of its time in predicting today's world: the cult of celebrity, ratings-based news programming, faux experts, and "reality" TV.
While the film's ending may seem "tacked on", it contains a certain truth. While Arnold learned that married life isn't a panacea, Charlie gained an appreciation for what he had with Helen. It was directed by Delbert Mann, only his second film after Marty (1955), which was another Chayefsky-written drama (that initially aired on TV) about lonely people.
© 2007 Turner Classic Movies - this article originally appeared on TCM's official blog