For Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers) in Bachelor Mother (1939), the New Year is off to a bad start before it even began. Around Christmas time she gets a note from her employer John P. Merlin & Son, a New York City department store, that her services will no longer be needed after the holiday is over. Without a job or any family members around to help her, she's in dire straits. While out and about looking for new employment, she stumbles across a baby that has been left at the door stop of a foundling home. The home's staff refuse to believe her when she says the baby is not hers.
"I wasn't leaving it, I was just picking it up!" - Polly
The foundling home and David Merlin (David Niven) get together and devise a plan. They give Polly back her job and bring her the baby along with a lot of baby supplies back to Polly as a Christmas present. Seems like the New Year is going to be filled with dirty diapers, feedings, no sleep and a lot of nosy visits from David Merlin.
David Merlin and Polly Parrish are total opposites. Merlin is wealthy and reckless, speeding in the middle of the night and getting thrown in jail, showing up to work after noontime and stringing his society girlfriend along. Polly on the other hand is responsible, poor and has a very cynical outlook on life.
"I almost envy you. I do envy you." - David
"Really?!" - Polly
Fast forward to New Year's. David Merlin (David Niven) calls up his society girlfriend Louise King (June Wilkins) after 8 pm on New Year's Eve inviting her out. But it's too little too late and she turns him down.
"Why David. Are you under the impression that we have a date tonight?" - Louise
He offers a date to Polly which seems quite a rotten thing to do seeing as she's basically his back-up so he won't go stag. Polly sees right through this and realizes she can't go even if she wanted to because of the baby and because of their noticeable class difference.
"Well you and your... And me in my... What I've got. We'd make half of a lovely couple." - Polly
As long as Polly can get the landlady to watch the baby, David offers to dress her up in the finest from his department store and to take her out for an amazing night on the town.
The New Year's scenes in Bachelor Mother (1939) are quite grand. They have colored my idea of New Year's celebrations with it's 1930's elegance in black and white. David gets Polly a new dress, a mink coat with orchids, stockings, handkerchief, purse, gloves and shoes.
They go out to a restaurant for dancing, a four course meal and all the tinsel and confetti they can stand. But there is a bit of a problem. How is Polly going to be able to talk with David's upper-class and wealthy friends with whom she has nothing in common? David devises a ruse in which Polly is the daughter Swedish magnate and doesn't speak a word of English. She dances the night away with his buddies, much to David's dismay, and needs not worry about revealing her true status. She's a queen for one glorious evening. And we get rewarded with some fun made up Swedish.
"Svell" - Polly
Polly is having so much fun she misses out on all the food!
"Hey, I'm hungry" - Polly
They leave the party in search of some food but find themselves in Times Square instead. They got lost in the crowd, the great equalizer. For one night everyone is the same, gathering together to celebrate the New Year that they'll all experience together.
They watch the ball drop in Times Square, find each other in the crowd and ring in the New Year with a kiss.
It's a very romantic New Year's celebration. Once it's over, reality meets our two heroes and the complexity of their situation comes to light. But for that one glorious night, they could forget their troubles, their class divide and just enjoy the evening.
I think I will always be longing for a New Year's Eve like the one David and Polly have in Bachelor Mother. This wonderful film is from a year known especially for being a golden year in Hollywood history. I watch it every year and it's become part of my own New Year's celebration. I hope it'll become part of your celebration too.
"'Appy Nuuu Cheah!" - Polly in her fake Swedish accent