Sunday, 16 February 2014

Family Honeymoon (1948)

"Family Honeymoon" is the last pairing of Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. And of the six I have seen (I am missing the elusive "Practically Yours"), it is the dullest and most uninspired. It is also the most reactionary, even if it starts off with a good premise. A widow with three children is to marry an academic. However, the kids babysitter (her spinster sister) breaks her leg and is unable to manage the kids who tag along on the honeymoon.
Up to the end of WWII, marriage meant the couple was finally allowed to have sex (e.g. Minnelli's "The Clock"). This meant that the film (and its leads) could, particularly in comedy, increase and escalate tension with the audience knowing that at the end there would be some release (yes, I know awful pun). Whereas here the children are the excuse to keep everything censor friendly. Colbert dexterously avoids any move from MacMurray; one scene has her giving a stern look, completely emasculating him: MacMurray is an an absent minded professor who is not will not be rewarded until he ascertains his masculinity over an over feminine Colbert, who seems to have failed to notice her children are unruly until she looses her man - the double implication that a) a woman can't raise children without a man and b) a woman needs a man to guide her to life. These are lazy post-war Hollywood stereotypes at their worst.

The plot is also full of preposterous incidents (a mother not paying attention to their kids at a train stop?!) and a predatory woman (Rita Johnson, failing to do what Gail Patrick could do so well) to keep the story moving to its 90th minute. This latter point is actually extraordinarily annoying, as it passes all possible suspension of disbelief, with Johnson's character too eager to disrupt the honeymoon. Although I must confess that the party sequence at the end was a slight improvement over the rest of the film.

Neither Colbert or MacMurray do more than the bare minimum and I would suggest that all they thought of was the pay check, and honestly I can't blame them. Hattie McDaniel has a small role, just a bit more than a cameo, and looks very ill in what was one of her last film roles. Only Lilian Bronson as Colbert's sister manages to make something interesting of what is an disappointing
farewell of one of my favourite actor pairings of old Hollywood.

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