Bedtime Story (1964)

“Let me put some new colours in your paintbox.”

Debonair, suave Lawrence Jameson (David Niven) is a con man operating on the Riviera. He lives in a splendid chateau and has local police chief, Andre (Aram Stephan), on the payroll. When wealthy single women arrive in town, Andre feeds Lawrence the information he needs, and Lawrence, posing as a prince of a deposed realm, bleeds money from sympathetic, lonely rich women. Meanwhile in Germany, American soldier Freddy Benson (Marlon Brando) plays the same game–just at a lower level. His standard story is that he has a German grandmother who needs an operation, and a bevy of local beauties fall for his line one after another.

When Freddy is kicked out of the army, he makes his way to the Riviera hoping that there will be plenty of lonely, rich women to pluck. On the train Freddy meets Lawrence, and after a series of events, the two men form a partnership conning and looting rich women using Lawrence’s chateau as a base of operations.

At first the partnership works very well, but rivalries surface. When the ‘American Soap Queen’ Janet Walker (Shirley Jones) arrives in town, Lawrence and Freddy make a bet–the first one to get $25,000 out of Janet is the winner, and the loser must leave town. Both men pull out all the stops to win the bet, and this results in hilarious and appalling bad behaviour.

Bedtime Story was remade into Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but this original version remains my favourite. Freddy Benson was Marlon Brando’s his first comedy role, and he does a marvelous job. While Freddy smacks of insincerity, he manages to evoke pity from women–mainly because he’ll sink as low as necessary to get the girl. Lawrence’s tactics are less obvious–he’s cultured and much smoother. As the rivalry between the men grows, a con-man game of one-upmanship ensues with hilarious results. My favourite scenes occur when Brando pretends to be the Prince’s idiot brother. Marlon Brando fans should make a point of seeing him in Bedtime Story–it’s a delightful film that shouldn’t be missed.

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