Saturday, January 14, 2012

Congratulations, It's A Boy (1971)

Director: Wiliam A. Graham
Screenplay: Stanley Z. Cherry
Producer: Aaron Spelling
Music: Richard Baskin, Basil Poledouris
Cinematography: Arch Dalzell
Original Air Date: Sept. 21, 1971 on ABC (73 min.)

Bill Bixby (Johnny Gaines), Diane Baker (Eydie), Karen Jensen (Rhonda Lewis), Jack Albertson (Al Gaines), Ann Sothern (Ethel Gaines), Darrell Larson (B.J.), Jeff Donnell (Rose), Robert H. Harris (Tom), Tom Bosley (Herb)

TV fans who remember Bill Bixby as the mild-mannered David Banner in the series The Incredible Hulk would be amused to see his work here as Johnny Gaines, a narcissistic 37-year-old swinging bachelor (dig those red shades!), whose womanizing ways are taken to task when a young man claiming to be his 18-year-old son comes knocking on his door.

In this amusing low-key comedy, the arrival of his long-lost son B.J. (brightly played by Darrell Larson in his debut) indirectly forces Johnny to confront a lot of ugly truths about his own life, not least the revolving doors of strange women parading through his groovy pad. In fact, B.J. is more responsible, and yes, adult than his estranged father.  At heart, Johnny is still a boy: this spoiled manchild largely gets whatever he wants, thanks to the money train from his parents' garment business. However, as the film progresses, he realizes far too late that the things he most needs have eluded him.

Diane Baker is excellent as Eydie, his co-worker, and girlfriend (well, his most stable female relationship, anyway), who somehow tolerates his lifestyle, yet only to a point, and decides she isn't going to wait forever for her man to grow up. Acting honours also go to Jack Albertson and Ann Sothern, who steal the film as Johnny's smothering parents. The comedy highpoint arrives when their suspicions that their son might be "like that interior decorator" because he is still unmarried in his thirties, are confirmed when Johnny shows up at their door with a man (unbeknownst to them he is their grandson). In this politically correct age, this subplot may seem insensitive, but the humour works because we're laughing at the old generation's clichéd perceptions of homosexuality.

During the climax, when Johnny loses all the people who represent some kind of stability in his life, and goes berserk, I kept waiting for his eyes to turn white, and his pinstriped suits to burst open, with big green muscles bursting through the seams... (sorry).  However, this fun film is above the usual sitcom level because this features three-dimensional characters, many of whom are seen at their best and their worst. Congratulations, It's A Boy could be seen as the antithesis to Bill Bixby's series, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, which was airing at the time this film debuted. But despite that Johnny Gaines' character is more abrasive, the movie shares a common theme with that show: a child has to lead a man through the world.

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