The Mating Season

“The Mating Season,” directed by Mitchell Leisen in 1951, features Thelma Ritter as a woman who owns a hamburger joint in New Jersey. When the local bank forecloses her business, she heads off to live with her newly-married son (John Lund).  Lund, who plays a character named Val McNulty, marries the beautiful Gene Tierney — but harbors an inferiority complex because of his lower-class upbringing.  Tierney’s character, Maggie Carlton, grew up as an ambassador’s daughter, and her mother, played by Mariam Hopkins, disapproves of her daughter’s marriage.

The incomparable Thelma Ritter.

Val wants to give his wife all the material comforts, even though she adores him and just wants to be a hard-working wife.  When the Ritter character (Ellen McNulty) arrives, Maggie mistakes her for a live-in maid and Ellen plays along.  Val doesn’t get around to telling her the truth for a while, and the sparks fly when the Hopkins character, Fran, also moves into the couple’s apartment.

Although the plot seems contrived, the writing by the screenwriters (including Charles Brackett) keeps the dialogue witty and cynical.  Val wants to impress everyone at work, but the owner’s son, who is jilted by Maggie, wants to sabotage both Val’s marriage and his success.  Val works hard on a big business deal, but its success requires that he sell out both his wife and his values to a snobbish out-of-town business tycoon and his wife.  Ritter, in her  typical performance as an overly blunt woman, has the best lines, while Mariam Hopkins plays a completely unsympathetic and conniving character (Fran).

The McNulty apartment provides all the modern conveniences for the early 1950s.  But when Ellen arrives as Maggie prepares for a party, she finds a complete mess — a burning roast, a broken refrigerator and a massively cluttered living room.  From there, the film shapes up as a domestic comedy, with the clash of cultures between Ellen and Fran providing the fuel.  For her efforts, Thelma Ritter received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, but lost to Kim Hunter for “A Streetcar Named Desire.”


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