Exhaustive, entertaining take on how the silver screen has portrayed wedded bliss and wedded misery.
Marriage was a problem for Hollywood and its main business of putting people in theater seats. True, it was familiar to the audience, but familiarity is not entertainment and escape. So Hollywood had the task of making the mundane exotic while still reassuring the audience that marriage was a good thing. The marriage film “had to become negative about itself in a positive way,” writes noted film historian Basinger (Film Studies/Wesleyan Univ.; The Star Machine, 2009, etc.). Sin and tragedy might occur, but in the end, marriage would endure. With prose both light and irreverent—an irreverence often aimed at the ham-handed plot manipulations the genre would at times use—the author traces how filmmakers tried to achieve these dual purposes. With detailed synopses of films both great and not-so-great—from Gaslight and Adam’s Rib to the Ma and Pa Kettle series—Basinger shows how a small number of plot devices or problems could be endlessly redesigned, reinvented and redeployed to both entertain and reassure. These problems might be realistic—money (too much or too little), infidelity, in-laws, incompatibility, class—or more far-fetched—addiction and murder (“When you marry a murderer, your marriage is in trouble”), but every marriage movie would have at least one of them. The main pleasure here is Basinger’s explication of how the movies and stars of the studio system years made all this work. She also touches on how television took over the marriage story via the sitcom and how today’s marriage films deny the closure and reassurance of their predecessors.
A fascinating, fact-filled story of marriage and the movies.