Judge: You know counselor, there's an old saying: there are three sides to
every story—yours, his, and the truth…I never saw a case yet where
the fault was all one side, so let's try to compromise.
Judy Holliday had her first cinematic triumph at age 28, playing a supporting role in Adam's Rib (1949), and very nearly stealing the picture away from its stars, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. She won the Academy Award the following year for her first starring role as the unforgettable Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday (amazingly, her competition on Oscar night included Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd., and Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in All About Eve). Holliday's distinctive New York accent, fine comedic timing, and "dumb blonde" persona all should have guaranteed her a long and fruitful career, but it was not to be. She was to play only six more screen roles in the following decade, and died of breast cancer at age 43.
The Marrying Kind was the third of four pictures Holliday made with director George Cukor and writer Garson Kanin (whose wife, Ruth Gordon—later famous for her roles in Rosemary's Baby and Harold and Maude—co-wrote the screenplays both for this picture and Adam's Rib). Conceived as a way for Holliday to show her range as an actress, it was not a box office success. Shortly after the picture's opening, Judy was called to testify before a Senate subcommittee investigating subversive (i.e., Communist) ties in the entertainment industry. Though she avoided being blacklisted as a Communist sympathizer, her career was nonetheless tainted by the allegations. She had some success with It Should Happen to You (1954) and The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956), but as the movie roles dried up, she concentrated more on her stage career. Her premature death in 1965 robbed the stage and screen of a smart and genuinely talented actress and comedienne.
Facts of the Case
Florence (Judy Holliday) and Chet Keefer (Aldo Ray) have petitioned the New York Court of Domestic Relations for a divorce. When their respective lawyers can't come to an agreement, the judge (Madge Kennedy) invites the couple into her chambers to reflect on their marriage, and try to decide where things went wrong. In a series of flashbacks, Florence and Chet relive the peaks and troughs of their time together: their courtship and honeymoon, jealousy and romance, hard work and missed opportunities, children and in-laws, good fortune and tragedy.
The opening credits are accompanied by upbeat, jaunty music—the kind that usually signals a comedy is on the way. Unfortunately, the music is misleading. The initial flashbacks have a clever "he said/she said," Rashomon kind of quality, but this is soon abandoned. There's also a surreal dream sequence, which somehow feels like it belongs in a different film. About midway through the picture, the upbeat music vanishes, and the tone changes to one of melodrama, as the couple faces a series of challenges and crises. Around this time, there's a peculiar scene (Chet buys a toy from a street vendor), which looks like it could've come straight from an Italian neorealist film of the period. My point is that veteran director George Cukor made some odd stylistic choices here that, more often than not, left me scratching my head.
I'm not arguing that every picture must fall neatly within a certain genre, or that comedy and drama can never coexist on the screen (off the top of my head, Casablanca, Pulp Fiction, and Rushmore are all able to mix the two very effectively). If the shifts in tone weren't so jarring, or if Cukor had worked harder at blending the two, this film might've worked. As it is, I'd call this experiment a noble failure (comparable maybe to the Billy Wilder/Marilyn Monroe picture, The Seven Year Itch).
This was the first major film role for the gravel-voiced Aldo Ray, and he seems more comfortable with the shouting and drama than with the comedy. It doesn't help the picture that his character comes off like a jerk. Judy Holliday fares much better, though I kept wishing she had better material to work with. (As an aside, I find that Melanie Griffith's screen persona—whether consciously or not—owes a lot to Judy Holliday.) Aside from Madge Kennedy, the supporting players are pretty two-dimensional.
Columbia TriStar presents The Marrying Kind in its original full-screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The DVD case describes this as a remastered, high definition transfer, and it looks pretty darn good. The black and white photography is presented with excellent detail, strong blacks, and no annoying edge enhancement. Something you'll notice right away is the heavy grain of the picture. Usually heavy grain suggests a "soft" picture, but that's not the case here. I almost wonder if the grain wasn't digitally boosted a bit to give the transfer a more film-like appearance (some people have criticized DVD restorations like Sunset Blvd., in which much of the discernible grain has been digitally removed, for not conveying the original look of the film when it was projected). You'll notice some white specs of dust and dirt, but they're never very distracting. All in all, I'm pleased with this transfer.
The sound is coded as 2-channel Dolby Digital, but I couldn't detect any obvious stereo separation. I think it's simply the original mono soundtrack fed to both speakers. The sound is clear, with little hiss, and a good dynamic range. The original theatrical trailer is included, along with those for two other films (including Born Yesterday). A one-page insert lists the 28 chapter stops. Aside from subtitles, there are no other extras.
An uneasy blend of comedy, melodrama, and neorealism, The Marrying Kind never quite finds its niche. For all the talent involved, this should have been a great picture. Judy Holliday makes the most of the material, but this isn't her best picture. Still, given how little of her brief career was captured on film, her fans will surely want to own this. For them, I can warmly recommend this release.
The prosecutor has suggested this isn't a sick film, it's a dead one. Not being an undertaker, I can't agree. The court suggests arbitration. The charges are dropped, and we're adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Original Theatrical Trailer
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