BON VOYAGE! (1962)
Midwesterners go to France: a surefire recipe for laughs! Or so Bon Voyage! would have us believe. Unfortunately, watching the Willard family deal unexpected romance in the city of love is not nearly as fun as watching an astronaut do nothing was in director James Neilson’s other 1962 Disney film, Moon Pilot. It’s time to take a look into why exactly this journey from Terre Haute to the French Riviera has faded from our cultural memory.
The Willard family is taking a vacation to France. Harry (Fred MacMurray) and Katie (Jane Wyman) have been trying to make the trip for years, but had to put it off because they were too busy popping out kids Amy (Debora Walley), Elliot (Tommy Kirk), and Skipper (Kevin Corcoran). In its early stages, it promises to be a G-rated National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Don’t cue up “Holiday Road” just yet, though…
Everything seems fine and dandy while the film establishes its “awkward family goes to France” premise. Unfortunately, every time you think that some sort of plot is about to emerge, nothing happens. Daughter Amy sinks into a confusing and unhappy romance with some asshole she meets on the boat (Michael Callan). Elliot flirts with/lies about how awesome he is to pretty much ever woman he meets. Little Skipper’s natural curiosity lands him in the middle of dumb shenanigans, one of which results in Fred MacMurray fingerbanging a sidewalk for an extended length of time.
He keeps fingering that hole for about five minutes.
There’s also chunk of the movie where Harry is super jealous, because his wife is being harassed by some jackass at a party. But none of these events ever coalesce into a watchable narrative. They’re just a bunch of disjointed incidents strung together for over two hours. The End.
Also, most of the incidents are boring as hell.
If I’ve taken anything away from Bon Voyage!, it’s that romance and sex are terrifying and confusing. Every character (with the exception of prepubescent Skipper) has to deal with their terrible consequences through the course of the movie. Within the first 20 minutes, Amy falls hard for some rich shithead. She spends the rest of the film wildly fluctuating between fawning over him, and being pissed off at his assholery. He insists that she’s too prudish and traditional for his tastes, so she resorts to wearing a leopard print bikini to get his attention, only to be cruelly slut-shamed for it.
A sexy pilgrim hat: the ultimate paradoxical puritanical titillation accessory.
Meanwhile, Elliot begins to explore his sexual side by hitting on every lady he meets. Before long, he ends up awkwardly putting the moves on a woman who is romantically interested in his father. Slightly later, he finds himself in bigger trouble, after a gold-digging French matron tries to get him to pay up for corrupting her daughter.
See Bon Voyage! starring Tommy Kirk as Admiral Big-Bucks.
Things aren’t so peachy for the parents either. In addition to arguing about what to do with their sex-crazed kids (for the record, Dad is in favor of interfering, and Mom in favor of letting hormones run their course), the adults have problems of their own. Namely, Mrs. Willard receiving the unwanted attentions of some creepy dude and Mr. Willard becoming a jealous prick about it.
Since all of these romantic subplots go terribly awry for our beloved characters, one can only assume that the film is trying to dissuade the audience from ever pursuing any sexual venture. Hell, the movie opens with Mr. and Mrs. Willard bemoaning that they hadn’t taken their European tour earlier in life. What stopped them? Having kids, the unfortunate byproduct of dangerous, dangerous sex. In summation, fuck romance. Wait, don’t fuck it. Don’t fuck anything. Aghhhhhh!
WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE IT?:
I’m going to guess that audiences just weren’t too interested in watching the Buzzkill family putz around Europe for over two boring hours. MacMurray and Kirk provide occasional laughs, but they are spread so few and far between that they only serve as a reminder of how painfully dull the rest of the film is. What few jokes there are frequently fall flat. You would think the film would be able to wring a laugh out of a kid getting squirted in the face by a bidet, but it doesn’t.
Like the rest of the film, it’s just off-putting.
- As miserable as the movie is, it has a truly delightful opening credits sequence. Set to a song by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (of Mary Poppins fame), it is light, bouncy, and contains about as many laughs as the entire rest of the film.
Don’t be fooled!
- Yes, this is pretty much the same family from The Shaggy Dog (except for the women, because they’re obviously interchangeable).
MOST REGRETTABLE MOMENT:
It’s always a shame when the crux of an entire joke is a part of someone’s physical appearance, so the scene where MacMurray makes fun of some lady’s mustache gets this week’s regrettable shout-out.
Remember, kids, even the tiniest amount of hair on a woman’s lip makes her fair game for ridicule!
I can really think of no reason why I would recommend this film. It’s torturously long, devoid of any semblance of a plot, and almost entirely unfunny. If you’re a Fred MacMurray completist, the film is available on DVD, and can be rented on YouTube, but you might just want to pretend you can’t find it and move along. Bon voyage!
Son of Flubber (1963)