Arnold Schwarzenegger seriously screwed up any chance I have at writing an effective intro to Bedtime For Bonzo, the 1951 comedy wherein Future President Ronald Reagan plays papa to a chimpanzee who wears human clothing. I wanted to make a great point about how anyone born past a certain point of familiarity with Reagan as an actor can’t help but be completely fascinated and even dubious that a man who once made a living mugging onscreen with a well-trained chimp would later go on to become one of the most powerful humans in the world
See, in the old days—but post Reagan as an actor, so not THAT old days—the biggest performance we’d get out of our politicians was their baby kissing or tax questions tap dancing or the juggernaut saxophone performance and failed spelling bee of the ’92 election. Our politicians were former lawyers turned public speakers who lived in suits and permanent smiles. They weren’t movie stars.
Then a man who once played a pregnant male scientist, futuristic robot, and Danny DeVito’s twin brother became governor and everything relevant to Bedtime For Bonzo changed forever.
At least for my generation.
Quick Plot: Peter is an up and coming psychologist engaged to the stuffy word generally reserved for female dogs daughter of his boss. When his future father-in-law learns that Peter’s own pops was a convict, the wedding is called off and Stuffy Word Generally Reserved For Female Dogs seems okay with that. Not overly happy, but more “okay, we’ll just wait til Father rethinks this,” rather than “I love you and support you and will try to change my father’s mind.”
For whatever reason, Peter decides to fight for his rather apathetic fiancee’s approval the way any future president would:
Befriending a monkey.
It’s a little more complicated than that, I suppose. In addition to wanting to marry an awful woman, Peter is keen on proving his theory of nurture over nature and what better way to do so than to train a wily chimp in the ways of a good and pure nuclear family? Thusly does he embark on hiring a mama—who conveniently enough is a sugar sweet young lady who seems poised to play the foil of his beloved at every turn—and begin daily routines of a healthy breakfast, kissing mama before leaving for work, and of course, putting Bonzo to bed.
Naturally, a series of misunderstandings leads to a second broken engagement, arrest, chimp dressed like a cowboy, job loss, chimp sale, burglary, chimp in glasses, and love triangle, that last of which is egged on by Peter’s partner, a foreign scientist who might actually be cinema’s classiest pimp. This being a 1954 family comedy, all ends well, even if not every member of the cast rides off into the sunset wearing a seatbelt.
I’m not necessarily keen on the man’s politics or his understanding of the food pyramid, but future president Ronald Reagan is actually quite likable in the lead role, even when being engaged to a total snob
Surprisingly enough, there isn’t that much drama or intrigue to be found inside a film about a psychologist trying to train a chimpanzee
Almost 23 is not so young
A papa should tell a mama when he’s almost engaged to someone
You can’t be a dope without a college degree
Hearing the future president shout “You’ve got to help me find my monkey!” makes me realize how no man can repeatedly say ‘monkey’ without sounding weird. It’s not just you, Harvey Keitel!
Standard Animals Doing Human Stuff Trope Tally
New Kid In Town: X
Recent Dead or Divorced Parent: X
Montage: X. Although there is a prolonged musical sequence involving the monkey on a bicycle, which is sort of the older generation’s version of a montage.
New Friendship: Check
Potentially Inappropriate ‘Friendship’ Between Child & Unrelated Adult (Human): X.
Evil Corporate Enemy: Check. Heads of universities make for formidable villains
Original Song: X
Bully Comeuppance: X
Small Town Values: X
Back To Nature Moral: X
Overall Score: 2/10. I guess the tropes have an expiration date after all
Having never seen Ronald Reagan act in a film, Bedtime For Bonzo was certainly an experience of sorts. It’s not every day you watch a future world leader cradle a chimpanzee in his arms and feed it with a baby bottle. Reagan apparently despises this film, which somehow makes the whole thing that much more amusing. Kind of like thinking ketchup would be a good serving of vegetables for the youth of America...