Thursday, November 22, 2018

Fred MacMurray and Jane Wyman Say Bon Voyage!

Fred MacMurray playing another Dad.
Fred MacMurray made seven films for Walt Disney Productions, starting with The Shaggy Dog (1959) and ending with Charley and the Angel (1973). There were big hits (The Absent-Minded Professor) and big flops (The Happiest Millionaire). One of Fred’s least successful Disney outings was Bon Voyage! (1962), a well-intentioned family comedy that will test the patience of even Fred’s most fervent fans.

The veteran actor stars as Harry Willard, a plumbing contractor from Terre Haute who finally makes good on his promise to take wife Katie (Jane Wyman) to France. Of course, it’s taken 20 years to make the trip a reality and the couple now have three kids: teenagers Amy (Deborah Walley) and Elliott (Tommy Kirk) and youngster Skipper (Kevin Corcoran).

Deborah Walley as Amy.
Amy finds romance almost immediately with a handsome, brooding would-be architect named Nick (Michael Callan). Elliott pouts over his girlfriend back home--for about five minutes--then tries to reinvent himself as a suave playboy. Katie finds herself wooed by a Hungarian lothario. And Harry...he just attempts to make sense of everything going on around him.

Bon Voyage! was based on a novel co-written by Joseph Hayes, who penned The Desperate Hours--a very different family drama. Esther Williams and James Cagney were attached to Bon Voyage! at various times during its development. But the cast changed significantly when Walt Disney acquired the rights.

Fred MacMurray and Tommy Kirk had already appeared together in two Disney pictures: The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor. Kevin Corcoran co-starred with them in the former film. Deborah Walley and Michael Callan had also teamed up in the previous year's Gidget Goes Hawaiian.

Yet, despite such built-in chemistry, Bon Voyage! comes across as no more than an overlong, episodic travelogue that makes one pine for Rome Adventure (also 1962). It's difficult to fathom why director James Neilson didn't trim the length by at least 30 minutes. The current running time of 132 minutes seems interminable.

As Nick, poor Michael Callen is saddled with a character that borders on psychotic. In one scene, Nick is wooing Walley with aplomb. In another, he is launching into rants about marriage, career choices, and the meaning of life. Simply put, Nick may be the most bizarre character to grace a Disney live action family film.

Jane Wyman as Katie.
As expected, Fred MacMurray shoulders most of the movie, although it's too bad he and Wyman don't get a subplot together until late in the proceedings. By then, I was already looking at my watch every five minutes.

As much as I like the actors, I can't recommend Bon Voyage!. Save two hours of your life! However,  you may want to watch the opening credits. The title song by Disney veteran composers Richard and Robert Sherman is pretty catchy.

7 comments:

  1. I recall liking the dresses and being bored out of my mind! Bon Voyage is right. Waving from the shore is the most fun you'll have.

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  2. "Save two hours of your life"...Ha! I admit that watching it does make you long for "Rome Adventure", a much more entertaining European-outing...or even "Gidget Goes to Rome". The first time I watched "Bon Voyage" I didn't like it at all and thought it was really boring...but the second time I found it much more amusing and now I watch it perhaps once every 2-3 years. I've always linked the enjoyment of films with the memories of the day when I watched them, so I'm not sure if I enjoy Bon Voyage because of the fun memories associated with the most recent viewings or the film itself! On a side note, have you seen "A Certain Smile" with Rossanno Brazzi and Joan Fontaine? I haven't caught that one yet.

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  3. Thanks for the warning, Rick. If I every become a Fred MacMurray or Jane Wyman completist, I'll add this to my list – but I go in forewarned. ;)

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  4. I remember Deborah Walley as Suzie, the cute daughter/ in-law in the TV show The Mothers-in-Law.

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  5. Well, Rick, thank you for saving two hours of my life for me! This one, I never heard of. And I thought I knew the name of every film that came out in 1962 when I was a stark, raving movie-mad kid (possibly still am). Makes me want to write about Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, sounds similar...As for movies set in Rome, I guess I'll stick with Roman Holiday, La Dolce Vita and The Talented Mr. Ripley for now.

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  7. I also liked the opening song. But the rest of this movie is a snooze fest.

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