The adorable comedy behind Bedtime Story (Ralph Levy 1964) was good but it required perfecting which is what happened when it was remade as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in 1988. A super trim Marlon Brando plays Freddie Benson — the character Steve Martin took up in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels — and in 1964 we have David Niven forecalling Michael Caine.
Bedtime Story is a capering lesson in con artistry — we learn how to cheat, lie, humiliate, plot, bribe, wager, impersonate, and all with a cheerfully amoral air. And if Brando wanted to perfect his goofball credentials, here was his chance.
As an antidote to his more serious outings, Marlon Brando comes over all brash in Bedtime Story, trying to impersonate the cheating, thieving, blackmailing type of American he claimed to dislike so much. He also seems to be making fun of the solemnity of his early film The Men, simply by trying to do an honest little comedy, an unpretentious picture where he could combine his trademark hurt-baby-face with the tough-guy-body. The uniform is barely off however, and his character Freddie Benson is a total discredit to it.
Bedtime Story may be mooted as a comedy master class — eine master class in how not to do comedy — sorry for that. Every scene in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels extracts the full comic potential of the ideas — but in Bedtime Story these same ideas are often left shivering in the cold air. As an expected display of Brando’s versatility Bedtime Story may disappoint.
Marlon Brando as Ruprecht, with David Niven
Jerry Lewis would have been an ideal cast considering the many aspects of the role, including the portrayal of Ruprecht, one of the most epic characters in film, brilliant shown by Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
In fact Jerry Lewis was perhaps Brando’s best guess at how to play a part like this, because there is and always has been a difference between acting — and goofing off. For that to work here Brando must act that he is goofing off. Do you see where this is going? Brando has to go through acting to get to goofing off. He could not it appears goof off instinctively.
Generally in Bedtime Story, lameness prevails then. There is a scene when Brando is caught stripped to his underwear with the Burgermeister’s daughter — Brando dances out, doing calisthenics as he goes.
Initially the roles in Bedtime Story were to go to Rock Hudson and Doris Day, with the possible addition of Cary Grant. Bedtime Story worked out better than that however because David Niven performs his stock in trade star turn — the facially antic English gentlemen similar here to The Phantom that he played in The Pink Panther films — but with a great cruelty in his portrayal of the fake Dr Emil Shaffhausen. Also Tippi Hedren was supposed to play Janet Walker, but Alfred Hitchcock told director Ralph Levy she was not available. Shirley Jones was cast instead although a few years later, Tippi Hedren would appear as Marlon Brando's wife in A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)
Watch Bedtime Story (1964) on YouTube