Based on a script by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, with finely honed dialogue, “The Marrying Kind” deals with the breakup of a blue-collar marriage between Florence (Judy Holliday) and Chet Keefer (Aldo Ray). An uneven film, “The Marrying Kind” starts off as a light romantic comedy, but then its tone changes to a melodrama. Though warm and likable, the comedy seemed condescending to the “little” people.
What set the movie apart was its unspectacular milieu. In the 1950s, there were not many films about the working class. In its style, too, “The Marrying Kind” was innovative, using a kind of American neo-realism. There was extensive location shooting in New York, which gave the film verisimilitude; Cukor conveyed the blue-collar context authentically.
A more realistic approach was also attempted with the studio sets. The Keefer's apartment was deliberately small and cluttered, to convey a stifling sense of confinement, which reflected the couple's marital tension.
Cukor knew that casting was the most important element for a film like The Marrying Kind. As a team, he and the Kanins had developed a casting method, which they called “The Blackball System.” It meant that if one tried long enough, one could always find an actor who is acceptable to every member of the team. But if one member felt strongly against a given actor, it was enough to rule that actor out. After using four new actors in Adam's Rib, which contributed to the film's freshness, Cukor determined that whenever possible he would use new faces.
The role of Florence was specifically written for Judy Holliday, then at the peak of her career. Holliday came back from the country looking slender; she had lost twenty pounds, which was awfully becoming. Cukor, by contrast, has gained 20 pounds and felt bad about it.
Determined to cast the right actor for the male lead, Cukor tested numerous performers. Sid Caesar had turned the role down, because he didn't think it was good enough. The timing seemed perfect for making a star out of an unknown. Indeed, the role was finally cast with Aldo Ray, formerly Aldo DaRe, the constable of Crockett, a small town outside San Francisco.
In the movie, the Keefers marriage suffers from unrealistic expectations. In flashbacks, each party tells about their life together. One narrates a past incident, while the same episode is shown on the screen as it is remembered–quite differently–by the other person. “It's all in what you remember and in your point of view,” the judge later points out to the couple. The emphasis on the subjective interpretation of reality was a recurrent motif in Cukor's work–it would appear in other films, but most notably in Les Girls, the l957 Rashomon-like picture.
The Keefers' romantic illusions are shattered by the tragic death of their son. But this crisis, which initially drove them apart, also serves as the source of their reconciliation, and confirming they are still the marrying kind, they stay together. Still, at the time, the movie was perceived original because of its ambiguous ending. On the surface, it is a conventional happy ending, but there is uncertainty about the Keefers' future together.
The film's most brilliant scene is the flashback to the Fourth of July picnic. The Keefers' son, Joey, has gone off with other children to swim. The camera does not follow the boy, but holds on Holliday as she plunks her ukulele and warbles a chorus or two of “Dolores.” In the background, the viewers are shown the legs of people running toward the lake in obvious haste. Holliday is oblivious, until her little girl rushes back and screams that Joey has drowned.
The scene ends with a powerful dissolve to the present, with Holliday relating the episode to the judge. Her crying and screaming by the lake dissolves into her crying and beating her fists on the judge's table. Cukor's inspiration for this scene came from a production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard he had seen. He remembered the way Nazimova threw herself on the young tutor, sobbing over the death of her child. Nazimova sobbed as if the tutor was actually carrying her boy, as if he had just drowned. This scene had such emotional impact that he stored it up for future use.
Cukor's idea of putting a dream sequence into a realistic comedy was also interesting. Many of the Kanins' scripts for Cukor contain a fantasy scene. In this one, Chet has a nightmare in which he is sucked downward off his bed onto a conveyer belt, which transports him to a mail shute. Chet slides down, as if he were a parcel, and resurfaces in Times Square, where a firing squad composed of many images of Florence, dressed in a policeman's uniform fires on him. This sequence visualized Chet's anxiety and dehumanization, caused by his monotonous job. “You just run across Broadway in your shorts,” Cukor instructed Ray when they shot the sequence at Broadway and Forty Second Street. The actor did it without a blink; there was nothing he wouldn't do for Cukor.
The movie was made during a period when even a married film couples had to sleep in twin beds. Cukor's solution in Marrying Kind was highly original: He set it up so that the furniture hasn't arrived yet, and they have to sleep on the floor. Garson wrote a charming line that Ray says wistfully, “Honey, couldn't we change the order to a double bed”