This is my contribution to the Mary Astor blogathon being hosted by classic movie blogs Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings, running from May 3-10, 2013 – please do visit the other blogs taking part.
The Mary Astor film I’ve chosen to write about is And So They Were Married, a little-known romantic comedy from 1936, where she plays a divorced mother thrown together with widowed father Melvyn Douglas at a snowbound ski resort over Christmas and New Year. It’s not available on DVD, but can currently be seen on Youtube, and is also due to be shown on TCM in the US at 11.15pm (ET) on Wednesday, July 3. While not a masterpiece, this is an enjoyable family film and could also be a fun alternative to better-known Christmas movies to bear in mind when the next festive season arrives.
The scenery, filmed on location at Donner Pass in California, is beautiful, and Astor and Douglas make a great couple, even if at times they could do with sharper dialogue. This will be a fairly short posting and this isn’t the sort of film where you need to worry about spoilers – though, in any case, as the New York Times review pointed out: “And So They Were Married gives away nearly all the story it has to offer in one titular burst of generosity.”
I knew that Mary Astor found herself pushed into mother roles later in her career, but I hadn’t realised she started to play this kind of part quite so young, while still at the height of her beauty. She was just 30 when And So They Were Married was released, and looks very young to be the mother of Edith Fellows, who was 13 (although her character is said to be nine). However, even if the casting is a slight stretch, Astor’s relationship with her screen daughter comes across as warm and natural, showing the way forward to her later mother roles in better-known films like Meet Me in St Louis.
The film begins with a touch of road rage, when Stephen Blake (Douglas) and Edith Farnham (Astor) object to one another’s driving in the snow on the way to Snowcrest Lodge, where each plans to spend the holiday season with their respective child. When they arrive, still fuming, the couple are dismayed to discover that they are the only guests there, due to the heavy snowfall. This means they get the full attention of the hotel’s irritating hosts, Mr Snirley (Romaine Callender) and Miss Peabody (Dorothy Stickney) – whose stilted attempts at conversation provide some of the film’s quirkier humour. Soon Stephen and Edith are desperate to escape from the hotel staff, so they start to spend time together – and their hate at first sight begins to turn to romance.
Edith’s daughter, Brenda (Fellows) spends most of the first 20 minutes or so of the film in bed with a cold – while Stephen’s son, Tommy (Jackie Moran) hasn’t yet arrived from school, because of the blocked roads. Once Tommy does arrive, however, he and Brenda become instant enemies after he damages her “snow lady”. (She doesn’t hold with snowmen because she has a dim view of men in general after her parents’ divorce.) They pause their fighting long enough to agree that they definitely don’t want to land up as step-brother and sister, and so they should do everything they can to drive their parents apart. This leads to a lot of unlikely antics including a festive food fight – and a funny scene where Tommy’s pet dog runs amok with soap around its mouth, making the frantic hotel guests think it is a “mad dog”. (Unfortunately, in a puzzling loose end, the dog then runs outside and disappears for the rest of the film. I kept waiting for him to return and be reunited with the children, but no, he vanishes for good, with an odd explanation late in the film from Tommy that this sweet little lapdog has ‘gone back to being a wolf’! Some scenes were apparently chopped from this film, so maybe that is the real explanation.)
At first, all the children’s stunts and plotting seem to have quite the opposite effect of the one they intended, and just convince their parents that they are striking up a great friendship. But in the end the children do manage to drive Stephen and Edith apart – and then, once home again after the holidays, start to regret their selfishness. So do they apologise to their parents? Well, no – this is a screwball comedy, after all, so instead they come up with yet another harebrained plot to throw Stephen and Edith back together, which leads to a host of madcap plot twists and ends up with the couple thrown in jail.
On the face of it, both Tommy and Brenda should seem like spoilt brats, as they insist that they don’t want to share their parents and calculate on what Christmas presents they are going to receive – but both the young actors are very likeable and natural and make the comic antics a lot more enjoyable on screen than they sound here. It’s just a pity that the youngsters get rather too much screen time at the expense of Astor and Douglas. (Like so many child stars, Edith Fellows had a troubled life, which was more dramatic than this movie – she was brought up by her domineering grandmother, who refused to let her make any friends, and her bank account was emptied by relations by the time she came of age, leaving her penniless. She also became addicted to drink and drugs, but later in life she found a second career as an actress, and she lived until 2011. Her New York Times obituary tells of her ‘Dickensian’ life.)
All in all, I enjoyed this rather slight offering, based on the story Bless Their Hearts by author Sarah Addington. I felt that the chemistry between Astor and Douglas – who are both wonderfully dry – makes it work well. I’ll admit I had been hoping for more given the fact that the director was Elliott Nugent, who also co-directed (with James Flood) the great pre-Code The Mouthpiece, starring Warren William as a lawyer in league with the mob. But although this film is nowhere near that standard, it’s quite entertaining in its own right. It was also quite refreshing to see a 1930s film with single parents as romantic leads, having to juggle their family responsibilities with finding love second time around. And, even in a mother role, Mary Astor looks extremely glamorous, especially when she wears a “gold dress” to a festive dinner at the hotel.
I must just add that Melvyn Douglas and Mary Astor worked together again a couple of years later in There’s Always a Woman. I’d love to see that one, as it is said to be similar to The Thin Man, which is a favourite of mine, with husband and wife detectives played by Douglas and Joan Blondell. Astor was third-billed. If anyone visiting my blog has seen it, I’d be interested to hear what you thought.