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Made For Each Other (1939)

18 Jan

downloadI can now be counted as an unabashed fan of Carole Lombard. The first movie I ever saw her in was My Man Godfrey and she was a bit much for me and I stayed away from her films for years. It was my loss, though. The more I see her films, the more brilliant she seems. She combines luminous beauty and depth of feeling with brilliant comic timing and energy.

Made For Each Other is an imperfect movie about the travails of a recently married couple, but allows Carole Lombard to showcase the range of her acting. She plays Jane Mason, the wife of John Mason (James Stewart), who is a lawyer and lives with his mother. The film begins with them just married, crazy in love, and planning to go on their honeymoon to Europe.

But life does not proceed exactly as planned. It’s the depression (the boss wants everyone to take a cut in salary), they live in a small apartment with his querulous and critical mother (Lucile Watson) and John is passed over as a partner by his boss, Judge Doolittle (Charles Coburn). Things become even more strained when they have a child.

Part of the trouble is that John is somewhat meek and disinclined to assert himself, something that Jane takes him to task on (she is definitely the bolder one). She wants him to appreciate his own worth. In some ways, the beginning of the film reminds me of Vivacious Lady, which James Stewart made the previous year with Ginger Rogers and Charles Coburn. In that film, James Stewart is a professor who meets, falls in love with, and marries Rogers all within the space of several hours (just like Made For Each Other), but is too timid to tell his father (Charles Coburn) and generally needs to have his spine stiffened. But Vivacious Lady is purely a comedy. Made For Each Other begins much like a comedy, but veers into melodrama territory by the end. The ending, in particular, is improbable.

But Carole Lombard is a delight as Jane. She absolutely adores John and a large part of the charm of the film is how invested Stewart and Lombard makes the audience in their story, despite its improbabilities. Lombard also demonstrates her excellent comic timing, especially in her interactions with her step-mother, who is never quite satisfied with anything Jane does. Her patience, but also her frustrations, all seemed very believable and it is an interesting look at people trying to get along in a small space. I would have enjoyed more of that and less of the ending race to fly some serum to New York to save their baby from pneumonia.

imagesOkay, apart from the ending, there is one thing I thought was distinctly odd. What is with the string of maids? How are they affording a string of maids (who all give notice for various reasons)? John laments at one point how their marriage is a mistake and how he’s turned Jane into a household drudge because she’s now having to take care of the apartment. My grandmother was married, had five children, took care of the house and frequently worked (at night, so she could be home with the kids). No maid. She never thought of herself as a drudge. She told me people simply did whatever they needed to do. And this was the ’50s, when there was no depression. Hollywood’s idea of how working people lived is certainly curious (my grandmother always gets a laugh whenever she sees a Hollywood “middle-class” family with a housekeeper).

I did find the relationship between Jane and Lily interesting (Lily is their last maid, played by Louise Beavers). In nearly all ways, it is a stereotypical role for Beavers. However, the dynamics stuck out to me. Jane has been looking for work and she and Lily sit down together on the bench and talk. Lily is given dialogue that is stereotyped in the extreme (using watermelons as a metaphor), but the body language and mutual friendship tells a different story. In many films, there can be a tone of condescension used when addressing a black character, but Lombard speaks to Lily just as she would a friend. Even the hug they share when Lily stops by their apartment on New Year’s Eve seems genuine and unforced, like they are really happy to see each other. Oddly enough, Jane’s struggles with poverty has give her common ground with Lily and made them equals in a certain way.

It’s something you see occasionally in depression era films (and WWII films). The sense that the national tragedy or struggle has equalized people to a certain extent. Everyone is fighting the same battle. True unity, the suggestion is, often comes from tragedy and shared struggle. Even the overwrought ending reinforces this. The struggle to save the baby at the end resolves all tensions and troubles, leading to reconciliation and prosperity.

This post is part of “Carole Lombard: The Profane Angel Blogathon.” Reportedly, Stewart and Lombard got on extremely well and Stewart said that Carole Lombard was the only person he knew who could make swearing ladylike. Thanks to In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies for hosting!

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16 Comments

Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Movies

 

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16 responses to “Made For Each Other (1939)

  1. Andrea Lundgren

    January 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    I remember seeing this movie, years ago, and that ending was frustrating. Very melodramatic!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      January 18, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      Yes! It sucks all the air out of the film. Apparently David O. Selznick was working on Gone With the Wind at the time, but took time out to add that ending. One can’t help wishing a bit that he had stuck to Gone With the Wind. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. Eric Binford

    January 18, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    “I can now be counted as an unabashed fan of Carole Lombard.” Welcome to the club! She was a fantastic actor (Nothing Sacred contains my favorite Lombard performance). Anyhow, Made For Each Other is an interesting curio. Not great, but kinda of interesting. BTW, you are so right about old Hollywood and maids. This is not the only movie I’ve seen where cash-strapped white people manage to have non-white hired help! Hollywood was called the “dream factory” for a reason. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      January 18, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Thank you! It’s good to be in the club! There aren’t many actors who can do comedy and drama effectively…and she really could do comedy with the best.

      “Dream factor” – so true! No matter how bad things get, one can always have household help. 🙂 And maybe it was also Hollywood’s way of sneaking extra side characters in the film (like Marjorie Main).

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Eric Binford

        January 20, 2017 at 11:26 am

        Yes! Main, Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers, etc., they were all scene-stealers! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

         
  3. Michaela

    January 18, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    I haven’t seen this one yet, mainly because everything I had heard about it made it sound super dramatic and when Jimmy Stewart is sad, I feel sad. But your post makes it seem like the movie is better than what I’ve always thought it was going to be. TCM plays it somewhat regularly, so maybe I’ll finally give it a go soon.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      January 18, 2017 at 7:37 pm

      I have to admit it is very dramatic, especially at the end. It’s sort of a melodrama with comedic aspects. But if you really enjoy James Stewart and Carole Lombard it’s definitely worthy seeing! They make a good couple.

      Will be very curious to know what you think of it!

      Like

       
  4. jennifromrollamo

    January 18, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Another great Lombard film I really like is To Be or Not To Be, with Jack Benny and a very young Robert Stack. If you haven’t seen it yet, find it-it’s great with that Lubitsch touch, too.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      January 18, 2017 at 7:38 pm

      You remind me I really need to see that one again! I saw it once, before I had fully gotten into classic movies or knew about Lubitsch and somehow I don’t think I fully appreciated it. You’re right – I should definitely try to see that one again!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. Grand Old Movies

    January 18, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    I agree with so much of your post, including how offputting Carole Lombard can be in My Man Godfrey. (I know the film is considered one of the great comedy classics today, but I’ve never been able to warm up to it). You’re right on how this film shows us Lombard’s dramatic range; she modulates it so beautifully, in showing how the couple’s struggles change her, especially in relation to her husband; the New Year’s Eve scene at then nightclub, where she broaches the subject of divorce, is poignant and heartrending.

    You make an interesting point about maids, and how middle-class families always seem able to afford them in classic Hollywood films, even consider them a necessity. The movie A Letter to Three Wives pokes fun at that notion, in the scenes between Ann Sothern and Thelma Ritter, how Sothern INSISTS on having a maid in order to enhance her status, and how Ritter’s defiantly working-class outlook (announcing “Soup’s on” instead of “Dinner is served”) highlights her employer’s pretensions. In the Lombard movie, having a maid seems part of the couple’s attempt to move into the upper classes (represented by the boss and his daughter); her having to give up the maid emphasizes their poverty. It’s one of those Hollywood fantasies that the movies then loved to portray, along with the perfect father of Judge Hardy and the perfect child of Shirley Temple.

    Another movie I’d recommend with Lombard that shows her dramatic range is the 1939 film They Knew What They Wanted, which she made with Charles Laughton. It’s a little hard to find (I don’t know if it’s even on DVD), but she’s excellent in it.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      January 19, 2017 at 10:25 am

      That’s a great example in A Letter to Three Wives. I loved Thelma Ritter in that scene, Pretty hilarious. And the uniform Sothern made her wear! I like your point about how it symbolizes the pretensions towards moving into the upper middle class.

      Thanks for the recommendation! I will definitely have to look for that one (and I always love to see Charles Laughton in anything). It seems like Carole Lombard made a number of dramas during 1939-1940. I wonder if she was feeling a bit tired of doing comedies or just wanted to stretch her acting range.

      Like

       
  6. Silver Screenings

    January 19, 2017 at 6:50 am

    I liked what you said about a national tragedy being an equalizer, and it sounds like this film tries to reflect that.

    I haven’t seen this one, but in every review I’ve read, people keep mentioning the housekeepers. This film has never piqued my interest, but you’ve convinced me to give it a go. I’m glad to know going in that it becomes rather melodramatic and not to expect too much from the ending.

    Thanks for this thoughtful review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      January 19, 2017 at 10:38 am

      Yes, those housekeepers really are a puzzler! 🙂 It did seem to help, though, to have slightly lower expectations. But definitely if you enjoy Lombard or Stewart or are interested in how the depression manifested itself in film, it can have a lot to offer! It was more interesting than I thought it was going to be. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

       
  7. Le

    January 24, 2017 at 9:00 am

    I agree that the ending seemed forced, exaggerated. But I really loved Carole’s performance in such dramatic scenes. Her friendship with Lily is also a highlight.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      January 24, 2017 at 9:45 am

      Yes, she is so good, isn’t she! It makes me want to see her in more dramatic roles.And Louise Beavers, too! Have you ever seen Imitation of Life? I have not seen it, but have been wanting to very much.

      Like

       

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