The Carole Lombard: The Profane Angel Blogathon is an event honoring the life and career of the actress, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at the host sites.
Made For Each Other
As I watched Made For Each Other, I couldn't help drawing comparisons to Penny Serenade, which I saw weeks ago. They're both ordinary, down-to-earth tales of married couples trying to start families and sustain their relationships amidst the travails of pre-war life. Compared to modern movies, it's surprising to see such care and detail applied to stories like these without some kind of "hook" attached - and I don't even mean magic or aliens or superpowers; more like the wacky best friend, or the wacky scheme that grows out of control.
There are a few important structural differences. Unlike Penny, Made forgoes the courtship period between Jimmy Stewart and Carole Lombard and begins with the two of them already married, after an unusually brief whirlwind acquaintance. Made places a greater emphasis on outside pressures, in the form of Stewart's boss, Charles Coburn, and his mother, Lucille Watson (no relation), threatening the stability of the marriage. The former doesn't really appreciate Stewart and the latter doesn't really appreciate Lombard.
Both films, though, emphasize long-term career issues for the husbands and domestic difficulties for the wives. I found it interesting that Lombard gives up her career goals to become a wife and mother without any complaints. They could've used the extra income later on when they have money problems.
Speaking of which: Lombard's a housewife and Watson lives with them, yet Stewart throws away dough on a maid? Several, in succession, in fact? No wonder they have money problems! At first, I thought they were upper-class because of Watson's proper enunciation and bearing, but they weren't. Poor acting choice there.
Starting a family is a big deal in both films, but Penny places a greater emphasis on this plot point. For Cary Grant & Irene Dunne, the success or failure of their marriage is directly tied to their ability to have and raise a child. This is not nearly as true in Made; having a child feels more like a natural outgrowth of events as they progress.
Both films place the child in jeopardy (spoilers to follow). In Penny, the child gets sick and dies off-screen. Her death is not as important as Grant & Dunne's reaction to same. In Made, the child's sickness is played for MAXIMUM GRIEF: the shocking discovery; the tears, Lombard's, anyway - Stewart's tears are implied but not shown, because, y'know, he's a man (in contrast to Grant's "Please let me keep my baby" scene in Penny); the desperate search for a cure; even the daring cross-country plane trip through inclement weather with the serum that'll save Junior - I mean, it's shameless how this film milks the suspense down to the wire.
Sociologically, these films, and others from around the same period such as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and the Andy Hardy movies, represent detailed glimpses of the kind of life Americans aspired to before World War 2 flipped the script. No mention is made of the Depression in either Penny or Made; the hard times the characters suffer have no relation to the national economic conditions, or to the slowly-building European conflict. In that sense, these films are idealized, but it was probably as comforting to audiences of the day as your average MGM musical.
While I can't say I loved either movie that much, I think I give the very slight edge to Penny. Grant & Dunne's relationship seemed a touch more complex than that of Stewart & Lombard. Plus, I liked the use of music as a storytelling device. Made seemed more straightforward by comparison.
Other films by Carole Lombard:
To Be or Not To Be