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The Marrying Kind

The Marrying Kind
Columbia TriStar
1952 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 92 min. / Street Date October 21, 2003 / 19.95
Starring Judy Holliday, Aldo Ray, Madge Kennedy, Sheila Bond, John Alexander, Peggy Cass, Mickey Shaughnessy
Cinematography Joseph Walker
Art Direction John Meehan
Film Editor Charles Nelson
Original Music Hugo Friedhofer
Written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin
Produced by Bert Granet
Directed by George Cukor

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Marrying Kind was a respected but not overwhelmingly popular bittersweet comedy that was expected to be another farcical Judy Holliday film like Born Yesterday but instead shaped up as a downbeat version of I Love Lucy. The Gordon-Kanin script intends to show the lower middle class for what it is, but now seems more than a little condescending; we sympathize with the Keefers, but mainly thank our stars that we aren't as dumb as they are.


Florence and Chet Keefer (Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray) are in divorce court when the judge invites them into her chambers to hear the story of their marriage. Bickering, emotional and not always mature, the young couple started off with little but their hopes, and just seemed to have bad luck.

It's a mistake to call The Marrying Kind a comedy. It might have been a good film to show to couples with unrealistic ideas about blissful matrimony. Flo and Chet Keefer have friends and he has a steady job with the post office, but their personalities have difficulty dealing with disappointments. Chet is just too insecure about his worth as a man, and too proud to be more realistic about his ambitions.

It was probably the intention of the writers to skip the Hollywood version of marriage. Father of the Bride showed two beautiful kids getting started who obviously have supportive parents behind them and great futures ahead. The Marrying Kind does better at showing how most Americans get along when they marry, but the experiment backfired because most audiences preferred the MGM fantasy version. The Keefers' parents aren't much help, and the couple starts life in one of those monstrous New York residence blocks, the kind shown being dynamited in Koyanniskatsi only twenty years later. There's still some raucous comedy in the Keefer's seemingly limitless incompatibility, but it conflicts with a tragic reality that unbalances the movie.

The writing has the feeling of fancy Broadway scribes writing about dummies who aren't as bright as they are - but the dialogue has to sparkle anyway. It gives the characters odd malpropisms and other kinds of no-class speech patterns, like the character actors in a slightly condescending sitcom. When asked how he knew he was in love with Florence, in his raspy voice Chet spits out, "Because she told me so. And she was right."

The Keefers are saddled with ordinary working-class 'sins' - unrealistic expectations, thoughtless selfishness - that make them look like oafs when every problem becomes a yelling match. Holliday was a great screamer in Born Yesterday and the logic must have been to find reasons excuse to let her exercise her lungs. The original poster proves this - it shows Judy shoving her hand into Aldo's face, with the big cartoon caption 'SHADDUP!'

For friends, the Keefers are given the Bundys, another working class couple with ambitions no more focused than their own. The husband is played by Mickey Shaughnessy, a good actor later wasted in comedies needing a mouth-breathing but sympathetic moron - (Designing Woman, North to Alaska. The Marrying Kind was his first film as well, he has a fine Marty-like monologue while putting together a paté in his butcher shop: "For my kind of type, I married Emily. She's the right kind of type for my kind of type."

The Keefers experience a tragedy that decisively steers the film away from the expected light comedy. Holliday's screen image was such that many 1952 audiences resented the plot turn, and gave the picture a bad word of mouth. In reality, The Marrying Kind excels at showing the petty miseries that defeat good intentions - like the delayed bus trip that ruins what was hoped to be a happy visit.

George Stevens made Hollywood history a decade or so before by bringing a similar tragedy into his bittersweet take on marriage, Penny Serenade. That movie's ill-fated couple, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne spend most of their time in financial trouble, but even when living in old rooming houses they maintain Hollywood standards of neatness, diction and deportment. Grant is incapable of looking lower-class, so the character is a luckless businessman - can you imagine the thick-tongued Aldo Ray behaving like Grant? The Marrying Kind is a transition picture for the movies to figure out how to portray 'real' ordinary folk. Television drama would soon be a big influence - next stop, Marty.

Judy Holliday goes for sentiment without the treacle. She's obviously trying to extend the range of her film work, and to the extent that Florence Keefer is allowed a brain, she does a good job. Aldo Ray was given a big publicity push with the film, and a special card at the end. Physically imposing, he never seemed comfortable on the screen in his 1950s roles, as if he was being held back or something. And his high, raspy voice tempted writers to give him too much low-life dialogue. In other pictures, he sometimes doesn't sound like he understands the meaning of the words he's given to speak. Here, he's given humorous 'I'm stupid' lines like, "I'm in a perfectly condition!" (admittedly when drunk).

George Cukor directs smoothly and with sympathy, and it's probably presumptuous to say that the fancy Broadway and Hollywood talent had no connection with the class of people he was portraying. Directors from modest backgrounds have just as many wrong preconceptions about how different classes behave in America. The only time the film falters is in a rather clumsy dream sequence. The President of the United States goes to Chet's post office and finds he's been doing a terrible job - the intention is to dramatize Chet's hidden insecurities. Both Chet and Florence are sweet-hearts with good intention. But they're ignorant too, and it's difficult not to be critical of their actions.

It's fun to see Charles Bronson (Buchinsky, of course), Joan Shawlee and Nancy Kulp among the bits. I guess they're upscale versions of what those coarse and funny-looking working people are supposed to be like.

Columbia TriStar's DVD of The Marrying Kind moves them one step closer to completing their Judy Holliday collection - there's just It Should Happen to You, Phfft! and Full of Life yet to go. Considering how few films she made, Holliday has to be considered one of the top stars of the 50s.

The transfer is one of Columbia's better efforts. The picture and sound are clear and flawless. The big discrepancy for quality between a DVD like this and the same studio's You Can't Take It With You must be the condition of the original materials: The Marrying Kind may never have seen a theatrical reissue, whereas the negative on the Capra film was probably printed until its sprocket holes fell off.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Marrying Kind rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailers
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 27, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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