Mitzi Gaynor in The Birds and the Bees (1956) [Movie Review]

The Birds and the Bees (1956) stars David Niven and Mitzi Gaynor as a father-daughter card sharp team who bilks wealthy people out of their money. This is a remake of The Lady Eve (1941)- a comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Coburn as the crooks. Henry Fonda stars as the unsuspecting victim who falls in love with Stanwyck.

In The Birds and the Bees, the victim is newcomer to film - George Gobel. Gobel was a TV star with an eponymous comedy variety hour on CBS, a Paramount company.

We've discussed before how Paramount of the 1950s seemed to bankroll lots of money and a starring gig for an unknown talent who has first succeeded in some other format of entertainment. [See our discussion of Pat Crowley in the review of Forever Female (1953).]

This time, Paramount does it with a very popular, crew-cut wearing, comedian who was in millions of homes weekly. Though I'm sure audiences enjoyed seeing their favorite TV star rub elbows with legendary film stars, there wasn't enough enthusiasm to make this remake a box office success. Gobel's subsequent success would mostly come from television shows, including recurring spots on "The Red Skelton Hour."

Mitzi Gaynor is winning as the cunning seductress. David Niven isn't given much to do as her father and partner-in-crime, but he's charming as ever. Gobel is giving it a good try, but with Henry Fonda in your memory, this performance leaves one slightly disappointed.

Part of what makes The Lady Eve a good con, an effective con is that the target believes he's smarter than everyone else, when really he's the last to know anything. In The Birds and The Bees, the target plays sheepish and perhaps a little disassociated from reality. This makes conning him too easy and not as fun. His innocence reminds you that these people should be behind bars, not running around on cruise ships.

About 40 minutes into the film, the story becomes a musical.  Gobel serenades Gaynor on deck with the title song -an attempt to sell albums and sheet music with this film. It's a little jarring, since this has been a straight comedy up to this point. But the audiences at the time would have expected Gobel to sing since he started his entertainment career as a singer and took that talent to his comedy show.

Although, The Birds and the Bees remains a bit obscured by the memory of its more witty and successful predecessor, it is still a fun little rom-com .


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