And So They Were Married (Elliott Nugent, 1936)

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.

Mary Astor and Melvyn Douglas

Mary Astor and Melvyn Douglas

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.

And So They Were Married 2The 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.)

Mary Astor and Melvyn Douglas

Mary Astor and Melvyn Douglas

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.

Mary Astor enjoying the festivities at the hotel

Mary Astor enjoying the festivities at the hotel

The two young stars, Edith Fellows and Jackie Moran, in an advertising picture

The two young stars, Edith Fellows and Jackie Moran, in an advertising picture

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36 thoughts on “And So They Were Married (Elliott Nugent, 1936)

  1. This sounds like a fun movie, even if it does give the kids too much screen time. I mean, you’ve got Mary Astor and Melvyn Douglas and you’re making the kids the focus??

    Terrific review, and great photo of Mary getting into the party spirit.

    Thanks for participating in our blogathon!

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    • Thanks very much, Ruth, and thanks for organising the blogathon, which is proving to be great fun and building up the list of Mary Astor films I need to watch. You are right that the kids could do with a bit less screen time and Astor and Douglas with a bit more, but it is still quite enjoyable to watch!

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    • Yes, I kept thinking while watching this that it is really a film for Christmas! Thanks for the nice comment.

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  2. I think I have to agree with Silverscreenings. You’ve got two great actors and you put the focus on the kids? But still, the thought of a single-parent romance is rather unusual for the 30s and Astor and Douglas are both smart and witty enough to make the material work. I’d better check this one out.

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    • Aubyn, the single-parent romance storyline was the one of the things that tempted me to watch this – I agree it is unusual for the 1930s. And yes, Astor and Douglas carry it through, though I do agree with both you and Ruth about the amount of screen time given to the kids! Thanks, and I hope you enjoy the film.

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  3. Beautifully engaging essay Judy, and a good sell for those of us who have not yet seen this particular film. I am certainly a big fan of THE MOUTHPIECE with Warren William and appreciate the comparison which understandable would favor that pre-code classic. I do love Mary Astor, and find her a great subject who too often is neglected in such undertakings. Her work is THE MALTESE FALCON, THE PRISONER OF ZENDA and THE BIG LIE will always be held in the highest regard. Great work here Judy!

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    • Sam, this film is nowhere near the standard of ‘The Mouthpiece’, despite Elliott Nugent having co-directed that one, but I was probably unfair to expect it! Definitely agree that Astor is too often neglected and it has been good to have this blogathon turning the spotlight on some of her lesser-known films. I love her in ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and The Great Lie’ but really need to revisit ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ as I don’t remember it all that well. Thanks very much for the comment!

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  4. Judy, this sounds like a really sweet and fun movie. Yes, it’s predictable, but in the end, aren’t most movies predictable?! Sounds like getting to that predictable ending will be a real delight.

    Thank you for bringing this film to my attention and for the heads-up about its upcoming TCM air date.

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    • It is quite sweet, and, although the ending is completely predictable (and would have been even without that title!), some of the incidents along the way are less so. I hope you enjoy seeing it. Thanks, Patti!

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  5. Judy, Have not seen this but like Sam mentioned above, your review is engaging and I also agree with Sam on THE MOUTHPIECE, that is a being a big fan. I did see THERE’S ALWAYS A WOMAN a few years ago on TCM and yes it is in the vain of THE THIN MAN films but not as good though it is entertaining enough.

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    • Thanks for the comment and the info on ‘There’s Always a Woman’, John – I thought you might have seen it as I know you have seen most of Joan Blondell’s films. I will hope to catch it in the future.

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  6. The film sounds like a lovely little trifle. And the combination of Melvyn Douglas and Mary Astor sounds like a winner! Thanks for the detailed review and the pictures. I’ll be checking this one out!

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    • Thanks very much, Gwen, and I’m so pleased to have found your blog via the blogathon – looking forward to reading more of your postings, especially with your Barrymore brothers month currently in progress!

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    • Fun is right – it’s very light but still enjoyable. And you’re right that Mary Astor is adorable in this. Thank you, FlickChick.

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  7. Completely new to me, hope I see it sometime. I like Melvyn Douglas and can imagine he and Mary would be a great team. Thanks for grand review and pics.

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    • Douglas and Astor play off each other very well, as they are both so dry. Hope you get to see it, Vienna, and thank you!

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  8. Never heard of this one before, Judy. But it sounds like fun. I like Melvyn Douglas and Mary Astor enormously. I’m adding this to my Christmas list. Though I don’t much like the idea of the disappearing dog. I’m always disappointed when that happens in a book or movie. I mean, talk about a loose-end. :)

    This has been a terrific blogathon.

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    • It would be a good one for Christmas, Yvette. I know, loose ends always annoy me too – well, I suppose at least there is an explanation about the dog, even though it is a ridiculous one! Agreed on the blogathon, and thanks for the nice comment.

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  9. I do love Douglas and Astor together, they just make a winning combination. Thanks for a great post, and reminding me of a forgotten film. (I like the idea of making this a Christmas Day movie.)

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  10. Judy, I must admit that when I started reading your review of AND SO THEY WERE MARRIED and noticed the characters of Mary Astor and Melvyn Douglas and their kids had a deserted ski lodge all to themselves due to weather, I began to wonder if this was THE SHINING played for laughs! But with Mary and Melvyn eventually teaming up, I’m going to keep an eye out on TCM to watch this (too bad little Edith Fellows had a hard life, though). Thanks for being part of our Mary Astor Blogathon and for bringing this movie to my attention!

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    • I would have to say this film has almost nothing in common with ‘The Shining’ apart from the weather and deserted lodge, Dorian! It is coming up on your US TCM in July, so hope you are able to catch it. Yes, Edith Fellows’ life does sound very tough – as with too many child stars in that era. Thanks for all your work in organising the blogathon – it has been great to be part of it.

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    • Hi, Judy!

      Thanks for your helpful information about And So They Were Married! I’m glad to hear it’ll turn up on TCM in July. I’m also glad to hear the snowbound aspect of the story is the only thing about the film that at all resembles about The Shining, since I’m not really into horror movies. I like comedy-thrillers like Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard’s films The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost Breakers, but that’s all! J

      Thanks again for joining our Mary Astor Blogathon, Judy, and have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

      Happy trailers, Dorian

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  11. Judy,
    Funny story about this film. I got started watching classic movies with my mother when I was a little girl and that has continued whenever I visit her. Anyway, I saw this with her when I was in my late teens and I remember her trying to talk to me throughout the film about Mary Astor and all of her scandals, etc.
    Looking back now, I find it funny since my mother could have never imagined that I would be writing a blog on classic cinema and here we are discussing this film that gave me one of my very fond memories of watching movies with my beloved mother.

    You’ve done such a great job here, in giving your point of view, showing your readers just how fun this film was. I know it’s encouraged many to see it for the first time if they’ve missed the opportunity.

    You mentioned wanting to see There’s Always a Woman but it doesn’t ring a bell with me. And My Man Godfrey is on my top 5 comedies list. I do hope you get to see it then review it for us.

    Have a great weekend.
    Page

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    • Page, how nice to hear that classic movies are an interest you share with your mother – I’ve tried to get my children interested and my grown-up daughter has been getting into them recently, going to a lot at the BFI in London. I do hope to see ‘There’s Always a Woman’ before too long. Thanks very much for the lovely comments and I hope you are having a great weekend too.

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    • Thanks, Jenni! Sadly I don’t have access to the US TCM as I’m in the UK – but anyway glad that you will be able to see the film over on your side of the Atlantic in July!

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