Made in Heaven

They made screwball comedies worldwide well into the fifties, despite the darkening effect of film noir and the realism of Italian cinema. In England, filmmakers probably wanted to put everything right again after World War II, so they gave us light-hearted cinematic views of tradition and class conflict. The English comedy movies that come from the era of the early fifties certainly provided a wealth of interesting character actors, even if their plots seem like oversimplified confections.

Sonja Ziemann plays a Hungarian maid in "Made in Heaven."

Sonja Ziemann plays a Hungarian maid in “Made in Heaven.”

Take a typical English village (Dunmow), add a loving couple living with their upper-class relatives, and provide a time constraint such as a contest, and you’ll get “Made in Heaven,” a 1952 English film directed by John Paddy Carstairs — a veteran director with a knack for churning out low-budget comedy hits. The Technicolor production stars David Tomlinson and Petula Clark as Basil and Julie Topham, who reside in a house with an extended family of resident nuts. The plot involves a yearly contest for finding the happiest couple in the village. The winner, who receives a side (half of a pig) of bacon, must appear before a kangaroo court of locals who decide whether they’ve achieved an entire year of wedded bliss. Called the “Dunmow Flitch,” the bacon would come as a very pleasant prize indeed in England at that time.

The Topham household, in need of a maid, contract with a Hungarian agency to send along reliable help.  They receive a picture of their candidate, a homely middle-aged woman.  But when Basil shows up at the Dunmow train station to retrieve her, the gorgeous Marta (Sonja Ziemann) shows up.  She’s not only beautiful, she’s charming and aggressive, and no match for the milquetoast Basil. She immediately insists on having lunch at the Ritz Hotel, and Basil is very happy to oblige her.

Soon, Marta’s charm and beauty hold the entire village captive, except for the women, of course.  Other things happen, such as the botched arrival of the flitch of bacon from New Zealand, but the movie never gets dark, strange, or sentimental. An old love of Marta’s comes from Austria, but that’s played lightly as well.  The producers made the film at the famous Pinewood Studios in England in Technicolor, and they have a bit of fun with that. First, we get a colorful American-style square dance.  Then, there’s an extended scene of the men of the village fantasizing about Marta in vivid Hapsburg and Czarist costumes. Mostly, I was left wondering why an entire village goes through all this trouble about bacon.

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