Thursday, June 19, 2014

Movie Review: The Marriage-Go-Round starring James Mason, Susan Hayward, and Julie Newmar (1961)


Julie Newmar, James Mason, and Susan Hayward in The Marriage-Go-Round, 1961.


Julie Newmar tries to seduce James Mason. He looks rather pleased with himself.
The Marriage-Go-Round, is a rather dull 1961 comedy starring James Mason, Susan Hayward, and Julie Newmar. It’s based on the play of the same name, written by Leslie Stevens, which was produced on Broadway in 1958, and was quite a hit, running for over 700 performances. Julie Newmar won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role as Katrin Sveg. The Marriage-Go-Round is about anthropology professor Paul Delville (Mason), who is happily married to Content Delville, who is the dean of women (Hayward). They get a visit from a Swedish professor friend of Mason’s and his daughter, Katrin (Newmar). But there’s a catch. Katrin’s father doesn’t make the trip, and Katrin, whom the Delvilles last saw as a young girl, has blossomed into a voluptuous young woman of 20. And Katrin boldly tells Professor Delville that she would like him to be the father of her baby. Katrin tells Delville that with her body and his intelligence, they will have a wonderful child together. Of course, Mrs. Delville is less than thrilled by Katrin’s proposition. But Katrin assures Content that she doesn’t want to steal Paul from her, merely “borrow” him to father her baby. 

It’s a rather silly story, and of course characters don’t behave in logical ways, as Content keeps leaving Paul and Katrin alone together. When Paul and Katrin kiss and he discovers he can’t resist her, he orders her out of his house. Which makes sense. No use having temptation right under your nose, especially when she’s sunbathing without a top on. But when Content learns that Paul told Katrin to leave, she inexplicably makes him go back on his word and invite her to stay longer. Which makes no sense. The whole thing ends happily, for the Delvilles anyway, as Paul doesn’t cheat and Katrin goes back to Sweden without a father for her future baby. 

Besides the silly plot, the major problem of The Marriage-Go-Round is that Mason and Hayward were dramatic actors, and not comedians. I’m not sure why they were cast in the movie in the first place. I’m a big fan of Mason’s acting, so I found it quite amusing to watch him play light comedy given his serious image. It’s amusing to watch Mason slowly light up as Katrin flatters him. The scenes where Newmar flirts outrageously with Mason are quite funny to watch if you think of them as a kind of reverse twist on Lolita, a film of Mason’s that would be released just a year and a half after The Marriage-Go-Round. Hayward has a more difficult part, as Content’s behavior seems quite daffy, and hard to figure out. Nothing Hayward’s character says or does struck me as that funny. Newmar comes off the best, as she invests Katrin with the right amount of sweetness and smarts. With her statuesque figure, Newmar was perfect for the part of a Swedish bombshell. 

The Marriage-Go-Round shows how some comedies just don’t age well. I think that, in general, since 1961, the way we view comedies has changed much more than the way we view dramas. I think that it’s much easier to enjoy a drama from 1961 than a comedy from 1961. Of course, there are exceptions to this, as there are movies that were funny when they were released and are still funny now. Audiences might have found The Marriage-Go-Round quite funny in 1961, but in 2014 it seems quite dated and more apt to raise a chuckle than a hearty guffaw.

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