The Tender Trap
Rated G; Directed by Charlie Walters; Starring Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, Celeste Holm, David Wayne
I love old movies, especially the comedies. Unfortunately, in my zeal to check out attempts at humor in past decades, I stumbled across a movie that left me with heartburn. The Tender Trap stars Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, Celeste Holm, and David Wayne. I just knew that I’d love it. A silly romantic-comedy about a swinging bachelor who falls for a sweet young thing? I’m a sucker for those! Ugh. Not this one.
My disgust comes from the galloping sexism in the movie. Now I normally can watch films and accept the attitudes of the times. I may wince when I hear Ingrid Bergman call Dooley Wilson, who is black, “boy” when watching Casablanca. I will roll my eyes at the sexist message in Tammy and the Bachelor when a successful woman learns that her career threatens her husband’s ego, and she quits her job! But The Tender Trap goes beyond wincing and eye-rolling. It’s just plain hateful.
In the mid-fifties we have Frank Sinatra coming off of some very dramatic roles. His 1953 Academy Award winning turn in From Here to Eternity showed that he could act. With the 1955 The Tender Trap, Sinatra tries one of those sexy, swinging bachelor roles. Charlie Reader (Sinatra) has the gorgeous New York City apartment, the wardrobe (tuxes and tomato-red shirts), and the attitude. Joe McCall (David Wayne), a married friend who shows up to stay for a bit, is stunned by Charlie’s life. He is especially stunned by one of Charlie’s girlfriends, Sylvia (Celeste Holm), a violinist with smarts to spare.
Okay, I’m fine with the concept and okay with the story so far. Then it happens. Debbie Reynolds character enters the plot. I love Debbie Reynolds, but there is no way to love this character. Young, talented Julie Gillis (Reynolds) is on the prowl for a husband – ferociously so. She’s out to find a guy who fits her horrendous requirements. Charlie is lucky at first. She doesn’t think he’s husband material, but then she sees him sitting in her ideal living-room chair and she falls for him. Yes, that does sound stupid, doesn’t it?
Besides the idiotic plot with a stupid heroine, The Tender Trap shows some of the stiltedness of a movie made from a successful Broadway play. Sinatra isn’t as funny as expected (he’s much more relaxed when having fun with the Rat Pack). Holm and Wayne get most of the laughs. Debbie Reynolds is…ugh…it’s not her, it’s the role.
It’s a “C+” movie but with an “F” social sensibility. Of course, one benefit of watching it, besides seeing rampant 1950s sexism in all its glory, I swear I heard Sinatra actually say “Ring a ding ding.”