Monday, February 19, 2024

Jeff Chandler Plays a Make-Believe Parent in The Toy Tiger

Jeff Chandler as Rick.
Had a bad day at work? Relatives causing undue stress? If so, then perhaps you need to sit down and watch a mindless 1950s comedy. You know the kind. It's entertaining enough while you're watching it, but it won't linger in your brain. It's like cotton candy--light and tasty, but not filling and quickly forgotten. If that's what you're looking for, then The Toy Tiger (1956)--a remake of the earlier Mad About Music--is the movie for you.

Laraine Day plays Gwen Harkinson, a widowed advertising executive who has shuffled her son off to a private boarding school. Gwen's plan is to work hard, make a lot of money, and then "retire" to spend time raising son Timmy (Tim Hovey). She has no time for romance, which is a bummer for Rick Todd (Jeff Chandler), an art director at the agency who loves her. Rick is fed up with advertising, but agrees to go to a small upstate New York town to convince an ex-colleague to work on a new ad campaign. He is completely unaware that the town is also the home of Timmy's boarding school: The Meadows.

Meanwhile, Timmy is dealing with a bully at school, who suspects (quite rightly) that Timmy has created an imaginary father: a world-famous explorer who sends him letters about his quests. In reality, Timmy is writing the letters and mailing them to himself. When pressured by the bully, Timmy states his father is arriving in town that day on a bus. The other boys become excited to meet Timmy's dad and go to meet the bus. When Rick gets off the bus, Timmy identifies him as his father!

Laraine Day, Tim Hovey, and Jeff Chandler
in a publicity still from The Toy Tiger.
It's a lightweight premise that functions surprisingly well for most of the movie. As expected, Rick eventually decides to go along--not realizing Timmy is Gwen's son--and play the part of Timmy's "famous" father (good thing the Internet didn't exist back then). Jeff Chandler seems to be having a good time as Timmy's make-believe dad and he and young Tim Hovey create a believable father-son relationship. It also helps to have a couple of old pros, Cecil Kellaway and Richard Haydn, playing the brothers that run the boarding school. (Both deserve more screen time!)

The Toy Tiger gets bogged down, though, when Gwen shows up. She is just not a likable character. Granted, Laraine Day and the writers faced a tough challenge: the film hinges on peeling back the layers of Gwen's business-focused persona to reveal a caring mother and a woman who wants to be in a loving relationship. Laraine Day never quite gets there. Perhaps, a more accomplished actress like Doris Day could have pulled it off. Or the writers could have opted for a more realistic ending, in which Gwen finds a way to spend more time with her son, but rejects a relationship with Rick.

Of course, that would be a different movie altogether. And we've already established that you just want to watch The Toy Tiger and enjoy it for what is. There's nothing wrong with that. You'll be pleasantly amused for 88 minutes and then you'll forget it.


  1. Rick, You have to cut Laraine some slack, amazingly she survived 13 years of marriage to Leo Durocher.

    1. I was probably too hard on Laraine Day. She would have been better served by a somewhat less abrasive character. Still, it was nice to see a professional woman in a position of authority in a 1950s film.

  2. I love the cotton candy metaphor!

  3. I love mindless entertainment! A good friend of mine used to say that in the evenings all she wanted to do was sit back and watch some "fluff"....her favorites being the Doris Day comedies. I'm going to seek this out because the plot alone reminds me of one of my favorites from the 1950s: "Her Twelve Men" with Greer Garson teaching at a boarding school for boys. I would also add "The Private War of Major Benson" and "Four Girls in Town" to the list of colorful and forgettable 1950s classics.