The Marrying Kind (1952)

David Sanjek

Hollywood did not allow Holliday to display the full range of her talent and intelligence; most of her roles were variants of the 'dumb blonde'.

The Marrying Kind

Director: George Cukor
Cast: Judy Holliday, Aldo Ray, Madge Kennedy
MPAA rating: Not Rated
Studio: Columbia
First date: 1952
US DVD Release Date: 2003-10-28

Director: Richard Quine
Cast: Judy Holliday, Paul Douglas, Fred Clark, John Williams, Ray Collins
(Columbia, 1952) Rated: Not Rated
DVD release date: 28 October 2003

by David Sanjek
:. e-mail this article
:. print this article
:. comment on this article

Smarter Than the Average Blonde

The figure of the "dumb blonde" has a considerable track record in the movies. From Jean Harlow and Jayne Mansfield to Reese Witherspoon, the image seems superficially ditzy, only to reveal a formidable intellect when circumstances require. Those characters who underestimate her resources come to regret their error. The films featuring the type simultaneously kowtow to and critique our preconceptions about gender, such that physical appearance is shown to be a determining factor in life, yet not to the extent that critical savvy can be ignored.

One of the most successful, if short-lived, exemplars of this archetype was Judy Holliday (1922-1965). She began her career in Greenwich Village as a member of the cabaret act "The Revuers," which included the screenwriters and musical comedy virtuosi Adolph and Betty Green. Holliday's fame was achieved through the role of Billie Dawn, the girlfriend of a gangster who falls for a bespectacled teacher, in Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon's 1948 Broadway hit, Born Yesterday. Subsequently, director George Cukor, Kanin, and Gordon gave Holliday a small but important role in their Hepburn and Tracy vehicle, Adam's Rib (1949), in order to convince Hollywood to let her star in the adaptation of her theatrical breakthrough. She virtually stole the picture from her illustrious co-stars, and won the coveted role of Billie Dawn in the process. This lead to her receiving the Best Actress Oscar for Born Yesterday in 1950, beating out Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in All About Eve and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

Sadly, Holliday's career did not have the longevity of her rivals, as she died from cancer in her mid-40s. Her comic skills were one of the highlights of the 1950s though, even if she made just a handful of films. As much as anything, it is Holliday's voice that continues to captivate. She treated it like an instrument, and it ranged from a sexy warble to a full-throated screech when under duress. Holliday also had a purported 172 IQ, which led her astutely to play up her Billie Dove side when she was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Asked if she was a Communist or knew any, Holliday "played dumb" and evaded censure. Hollywood did not, however, allow her to display the full range of her talent and intelligence; most of her roles were variants of the "dumb blonde."

The Solid Gold Cadillac falls into this category. Holliday plays Laura Partridge, an actress who received 10 shares of stock from a deceased neighbor in International Projects Limited, a corporation run by a trio of shady characters (John Williams, Fred Clark, and Ray Collins). She attends an IPL board meeting and calls attention to their misuse of corporate privilege through excessive salaries and steamrolling of small investors in voting procedures. In the process, she catches the eye of the firm's outgoing founder, Edward L. McKeever (Paul Douglas), who is leaving for government service in military procurement.

Eager to quell her criticisms, the executive miscreants put Laura in charge of her fellow small stockholders. Taking the bogus position seriously, she communicates with the company's clients while her employers ransack the assets. To make a bigger profit (and get Laura out of their hair), they send her to Washington to win over McKeever, and through him, a government contract. Even though she is unable to sway McKeever, the conniving board paints her as having engaged in illegal activities by engaging in insider lobbying. McKeever comes to her aid, while Laura's canny skill at enlisting the loyalty of her fellow investors leads to a happy conclusion.

Adapted from George S. Kaufman and Howard Teichmann's stage play, the script amounts to a tepid burlesque of corporate chicanery. The Frank Capra-like plotting, in which the seemingly under-endowed heroine bests her economic superiors, seems a bit too familiar and gains what effectiveness it possesses by Holliday's comedic skill. She has an able foil in Douglas, who starred with her in the stage version of Born Yesterday. Stout and blustery, he also revealed the vulnerable side of his brusque characters. One of the highlights of this film is when McKeever informs Laura of his theatrical ambitions, demonstrating with a comically overwrought recitation of a monologue by Spartacus.

Cukor's The Marrying Kind, Holliday's follow-up to Born yesterday, granted her a broader palette. Florence Keefer (Holliday) is married to postal worker Chet (Aldo Ray), and they struggle with the typical difficulties of a moderate income. The narrative is told retrospectively, beginning in the divorce court where Florence and Chet recapitulate their lives to a sympathetic judge. Kanin and Gordon's script weaves together the routine scraps, sacrifices, and successes of marriage, yet the plot never feels timeworn.

The characters also lack the sanctimoniousness with which Hollywood frequently pigeonholes working people. The script allows them to be both endearing and irritating, pressed by mundane necessities as well as committed to imaginative schemes that might allow them to rise above their social station. While the acrimonious tone of the discussions with the judge underscores their mutual dissatisfaction with the hand fate has dealt, Florence and Chet offer a convincing defense of the rewards of matrimony. Telling their story reinforces to them that their bonds are stronger than their petty disputes.

Holliday and Ray give splendid performances. In his later years, he was typecast as a kind of thick-necked thug, but here, he demonstrates a leading man's charisma. Holliday here exhibits a wide range of emotions, for Florence can be alternately self-sacrificing and smug. Her occasionally compulsive attention to the family's well being contrasts dramatically with Chet's wild-eyed schemes for getting ahead. The film is premised on such contrasts, veering between moods, from outright slapstick to fantasy to domestic tragedy. In the midst of this commotion, as in her other work, Holliday never lets Florence's dimness outshine her humanity.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.