Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) - Rotten Tomatoes

Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Bedtime for Bonzo Photos

Movie Info

Forget what you've been led to believe: Bedtime for Bonzo is a most enjoyable film, and Ronald Reagan is not outacted by the chimpanzee. Reagan is cast as psychology professor whose reputation is sullied by the fact that his father was a convict. To prove that environment rather than heredity dictates a man's personality, Reagan uses Bonzo the chimp to test out his theories. The hairy little guy seems to be responding to the kindnesses lavished upon him--and then he is accused of robbery. Reagan nearly goes to jail in Bonzo's stead, but everything turns out all right in the end (we're not giving anything away; after all, everybody knows that there was a Bonzo Goes to College in 1952). While it's an uphill climb, Ronald Reagan and his able costars Diana Lynn and Walter Slezak manage to keep Bonzo from running away with the picture. And yes, director Fred DeCordova is the same guy who produced Johnny Carson's late-night show in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Ronald Reagan
as Prof. Peter Boyd
Diana Lynn
as Jane Linden
Walter Slezak
as Prof. Hans Neumann
Lucille Barkley
as Valerie Tillinghast
Jesse White
as Babcock
Herbert Heyes
as Dean Tillinghast
Herb Vigran
as Lt. Daggett
Harry Tyler
as Knicksy
Edward Clark
as Fosdick
Edward Gargan
as Policeman
Joel Friedkin
as Mr. DeWitt
Brad Browne
as Chief of Police
Elizabeth Flournoy
as Miss Swithen
Howard Banks
as Policeman
Brad Johnson
as Student
Billy Mauch
as Student
Ann Tyrrell
as Telephone Operator
Bridget Carr
as Girl in car
Larry Carr
as Student
Jack Gargan
as Teacher
Steve Wayne
as Student
Tommy Bond
as Student
Show More Cast

Critic Reviews for Bedtime for Bonzo

All Critics (12) | Top Critics (2)

As is, it is a minor bit of fun yielding a respectable amount of laughs but nothing, actually, over which to wax ecstatic.

Full Review… | March 25, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

A dim sitcom of the kind Universal turned out by the dozens in the early 50s, distinguished -- if that's the word -- by the presence of Ronald Reagan.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

For once Reagan is in synch with his costar, but Bonzo the chimp proved the more able farceur.

Full Review… | August 2, 2011
TV Guide

Its bland star, Ronald Reagan, survived playing second banana to a chimp to become the 40th President of the United States.

Full Review… | August 24, 2007
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

... you might be surprised to discover that the modest little comedy is actually an enjoyable piece of light entertainment.

Full Review… | July 29, 2007
Turner Classic Movies Online

THE Ronald Reagan monkey-on-his-back movie...slapstick laughs.

January 4, 2005
Kansas City Kansan

Audience Reviews for Bedtime for Bonzo

Not as Terrible as I Was Expecting This is the second Ronald Reagan movie I've watched more out of idle curiosity than any real interest in the qualities of the film; let's hope this review doesn't get deleted in the same ignominious way as that for [i]Knute Rockne, All American[/i]. I shall be shooing the cat away if he comes within two feet of the keyboard. The thing is, I think you could tell a great deal about a person's politics back in the '80s by which movie they thought of Reagan's starring in. Republicans thought of him as the Gipper. Democrats thought of him as his character here, the inept psychology professor raising a chimp. Though honestly, I didn't know the plot of this one until I took it out of the envelope from Netflix yesterday. "Huh," I said. "That's what that movie's about." Then again, [i]Knute Rockne[/i] was in my head under "You know, a football movie." And it's not as though any of us were evaluating the movies based on Reagan's skill as an actor. So, then. He is, as I said, an inept psychology professor, Peter Boyd. He wants to marry the lovely Valerie Tillinghast (Lucille Barkley). However, her father, the dean of that fine institution (Herbert Heyes), opposes the match because Boyd's father had been a criminal, and of course all of that is inherited, meaning that the dean's grandchildren would be criminals. In order to show the dean the folly of his assumptions, Boyd hijacks Bonzo the Chimp from the lab for a psychology experiment. If he is able to instill manners in Bonzo and make him suitable for basic human interaction, that will mean that criminal traits aren't inherited. Of course. And he ends up hiring the also lovely Jane Linden (Diana Lynn) as his housekeeper and Bonzo's nanny. They pretend for Bonzo's sake to be a loving couple, giving rise to belief in family values Republicans would espouse for decades to come. Really, it's hard not to be snarky about this movie, and Reagan's presence only makes it worse. This is because the psychology and biology shown here are simply terrible. After all, we've brought cats and dogs into our homes, but that doesn't mean their wild relatives are equally ready to move in with us. Bonzo is specifically stated to be about two or three (and the department would know, because it's relevant), and that's largely because older chimps are less cute. All the ones you see in movies are babies, really, or anyway very young, because full-grown chimpanzees, if they are roused, are not at home to Mr. Reasonable. A full-grown chimp can damage a human pretty seriously, if it has a mind. As it is, I wouldn't want to be around a riled Bonzo, because even as a juvenile, they're still awfully strong. In the movie, it is reduced to turning over his crib and other wackiness, but in real life, well, chimps have pretty vicious teeth and a heck of a lot of strength. Pretending to cry will avail you naught. Oh, and ye Gods, the psychology. There is, after all, that whole pretending to cry thing. In the wild, chimps find smiling a threat--you're baring your teeth, after all--and have no concept of tears. It's also hardly doing something because you want to or think it's right if you do it to make someone stop crying. What's more, in the universe of the movie, nature versus nurture is seen as either-or, and the idea that nurture has anything to do with anything is shocking and radical. In this one, the nature/nurture debate has lasted for a very, very long time, and the general consensus has begun to be that the answer is yes. I'm aware that the movie was made sixty years ago, but that doesn't mean any of what happens in it was particularly valid psychology then. The idea that someone would prevent a man's marrying that person's daughter because his father was a criminal is more Victorian than anything. Any educated man of the twentieth century would be able to point to plenty of counterexamples to the very idea. All in all, this movie would have been forgotten decades ago if it had starred someone else. My understanding is that it essentially was until Reagan became President. It's a pretty forgettable movie, really. It's wacky. Cary Grant did something similar in [i]Monkey Business[/i], though admittedly only similar, and that's only memorable for its cast. (Including a very young Marilyn Monroe!) Honestly, I don't think anyone at the time expected it to become a genuine classic. I think they probably expected it to be what it would have been--a movie which people went to, laughed at, and utterly failed to take seriously. Plenty of movies like that get made every year. Within ten years, the assumption would be that, if anyone watched it again, it would be on television, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon when nothing else is on. It would have been that way; it was that way for a lot of years. But Reagan became President, and he tried to teach the country the same values he tried to teach Bonzo.

Edith Nelson
Edith Nelson

Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) Finally, a Reagan movie that delivers – not that he had much to do with it, of course. Bedtime for Bonzo is a refreshing film not created from loins of any other, but in fact a true original: A chimpanzee leads the cast through a plot where Darwinism isn’t mentioned once, and Charlton Heston never makes an appearance. Bonzo’s cast are by no means Neanderthals, though between Bonzo and Reagan, it is not always easy to decide who is playing the chimpanzee. But throw into the mix Walter Slezak, as a brilliantly caged scientist speckled with all the right humor, and you have an interesting 83 minutes of film on your hands. The female talent occasionally sputters, but the chemistry on film is strong enough to keep the audience tranquilized while the monkey runs loose. Though the plot is a bit bananas, it forms the core for the on-screen interactions to take place. If you consider the film’s design as a feel-good comedy, there is in fact very little to trip over: Bonzo elicits desirable laughs without a single cussword or resort to scatalogical humor. And even when the plot occasionally deadpans, eyes stayed glued to the screen as a chimpanzee fills in the daily role of an ordinary human being. Production-wise, the film’s cinematography is nothing to write home about, but then wasn’t exactly shot outdoors during a solar eclipse. On the remastered stock, the shots are crisp, clear, and framed well enough to get the job done. The film’s architect could cut some dialogue from some slightly bulky scenes, but otherwise Bonzo seems tuned to a pretty healthy blueprint. All in all, Bonzo is a well rounded package if you focus on its bright points – and when you desire a brief hiatus from the typical Hollywood circus. Overall Rating: B-/C+

Mack Ten
Mack Ten

I've always heard about this movie - usually when people are joking about it. I had no clue what it was really about. It was on TCM tonight so I watched it. I have to admit... I really enjoyed it.


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