Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ma And Pa Kettle (1949)

Ma and Pa Kettle is a great family film about a very unique family.  This was the second film appearance of the characters after their first unforgettable, incidental supporting character roles in the The Egg And I (1947) starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray.  Released by Universal-International Pictures this film stars Marjorie Main, Percy Kilbride, Richard Long, and Meg Randall.  It was directed by Charles Lamont, produced by Leonard Goldstein, and the music was arranged and directed by Milton Schwartzwald. That first film appearance spawned a whole series of films featuring the Kettle family.

The story begins as the Cape Flattery city council tries to condemn the Kettle residence because it's an eyesore and has a yard "like the city dump".  Ma (Main) already has her hands full taking care of Pa (Kilbride) and her fourteen "or was it fifteen" kids when they get a telegram notifying them that Pa has won a contest and that the grand prize is a new "prefabricated model house of the future", completely furnished.  This is a lot more than they bargained for because all Pa was trying to do was to get a new tobacco pouch for entering the contest.  For the duration of the film the Kettle's run into one snag after another trying to get accustomed to their new surroundings.  Their son Tom (Long) is returning home from college and helps his folks try to settle in to their new accommodations.  This fish-out-of-water scenario could very well have been an inspiration for the Beverly Hillbillies television series.

In a little side story in the film Tom meets a young woman (Randall) on the train ride home from school who just happens to be writing a magazine article on "the importance of hygiene in the home" and decides to include the Kettle's change in lifestyle as part of her series of stories.  Of course Tom doesn't tell her that he's related to the Kettle's because he's trying to impress her.  But Kim shows up for the ceremony at the new house and discovers Tom's secret and ends up becoming very fond of him and his family and tries to help out. 

The new home is a complete contrast to their plain and simple rustic lifestyle.  Watching them trying to get used to using push-button "futuristic" gadgets, including a large flat-screen television which was quite a luxury at that time, is a riot.  The Ma and Pa characters seem to compliment each other perfectly.  Pa has a kind of lackadaisical approach to life.  He's lazy but means well, and delivers his lines with slow deadpan perfection.  Ma is loud, rambunctious and does pretty much all of the work around the house.

Of course this film has some controversy surrounding it.  Rumor has it that Betty MacDonald, the writer and creator of the Kettle characters was sued at some point because people were upset that the characters were portrayed in a less than dignified and flattering fashion.  There was also some controversy regarding having Caucasian actors portraying Pa's Native American buddies Crowbar and Geoduck in various films throughout the series.

Unfortunately Kilbride became ill while filming Ma And Pa Kettle At Waikiki (1955) so he didn't appear in the last two films in the series.  The Pa character was completely absent from the film The Kettle's In The Ozarks (1956), and was replaced by Parker Fennelly in the final film The Kettles On Old MacDonald's Farm (1957).
One of the good things about this film is that it brings back many of the townsfolk from The Egg And I , like the eccentric widow who likes to take trips with her "husband" Albert, and the town busybody Birdie (Esther Dale) and her mother (Isabel O'Madigan), as well as traveling salesman Smilin' Billy Reed (Emery Parnell) who tends to speak in rhyme.

It's not one of the most sophisticated films you'll ever see, but good, solid, clean family entertainment. So take a seat, relax, and spend some time visiting with the Kettle clan.  It's a visit you won't soon forget.

19 comments:

  1. The only appearance of Ma and Pa Kettle film I ever saw was from The Egg and I. She was quite memorable.

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  2. OH, Dave! I love Ma and Pa Kettle so when I saw you were doing your Blogathon post on them I was thrilled. They are one of my favorite comedy duos. Like Kim, I saw them in The Egg and I about a year ago and boy did they make it funny. (Fred and Claudette were okay but The Kettles were what took it to the next level for me. (Before reading this I didn't realize it was what launched their careers.)
    I especially loved Main in The Women too.

    I'm not a huge fan of Westerns so when I visit my parents, my dad knows I'll sit down and watch his favorite channel if The Kettles make an appearance. Her interaction with all of those wild kids and her sluggish and inept hubby are always good for a few laughs. Also, Marjorie, with her voice, never mincing words, that hair piled on her hair and the need for a proper brassiere reminds me of my great granny. Ha Ha Both gems!

    A really informative write up on two extremely entertaining and talented stars.
    Page

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  3. I, too, was so happy to see the Kettles make an appearance! My parents always used to reference them ("did you see her? She looked just like Ma Kettle." "They live just like Ma & Pa Kettle".....), so when I first saw them in "The Egg & I" I was delighted. True, it's not sophisticated stuff, but they make you feel all warn and fuzzy - like an old shoe. Marjorie Main is a force to be reckoned with!

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  4. The Kettles are an inspiration. I pattern my housekeeping and child rearing after Ma. In Betty MacDonald's book the Pa Kettle character blames anything that goes wrong in his life on "those b******* in Washington". I merely substitute Ottawa for Washington.

    Percy Kilbride is a hoot and Marjorie Main cracks me up. I get a kick out of the whole series, especially when Birdie Hicks (Esther Dale) and Billy Reed (Billy House) show up. Good clean laughs and lots of fun. Definitely not to be ignored when you talk about classic movie comedy. Well done!

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  5. Thanks for a fun post, and a trip down memory lane. I haven't seen Ma and Pa in years. One of the fun things about this blogathon is the wide variety of choices in comedy bloggers are using to discuss this genre. These series films shouldn't be forgotten. Marjorie Main is a hoot in whatever she did.

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  6. Dave, which films in the series would you recommend the most, apart from "The Egg and I", which is great.

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  7. Dave, great choice for the blogathon! I'm proud to say I've seen all the KETTLE films and thoroughly enjoyed your review of the first "official" film in the series. It was interesting to learn about the controversies; the one involving Crowbar and Geoduck doesn't surprise me. Sadly, very few Native American actors were employed in Hollywood at that time. I always found it bizarre to see someone like Rock Hudson playing TAZA, SON OF COCHISE. As for Ma and Pa, I agree wholeheartedly that the characters (and performers) complemented each other perfectly. All the MA AND PA KETTLE movies are fun. However, I thought Percy Kibride was sorely missed in the other two. Frankly, I didn't care for them. My favorite KETTLE film is probably MA AND PA KETTLE GO TO TOWN, where Pa wins a jingle-writing contest.

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  9. Kim,
    The Kettles do tend to leave an impression on you after you see them. Even in a small role as in "The Egg And I". Thanks for stopping by ...

    Hi Page,
    Thanks for the comments, Ma definitely needs some sort of wardrobe intervention ... :)

    FC,
    Any of the "Kettle" films make for great family fun. I'm glad you enjoyed the post ...

    CW,
    I'd sure like to be around to watch you clear the table, it must be a sight to see ... :) Thanks for stopping in ...

    Jacqueline,
    When it comes to the blogathons I always try to do something a little different. This is one series that deserves more recognition. Thanks for taking the time to comment ...

    Kevin,
    All the films kind of have there own moments that make them special. But, I have to agree with Rick that the next film in the series "Ma And Pa Kettle Go To Town" is one of the best. Pa wins another contest, a trip to New York City, and they have try to find a babysitter for the kids.

    Rick,
    I think "Ma And Pa Kettle Go To Town" is probably one of the funniest films in the series. Kilbride's presence is most definitely missed in the last two films. It's sad that he met such a tragic ending after bringing so much joy to so many people. He was hit by a car near his home in Hollywood in 1964 while out walking with a friend, Ralf Belmont, and died a few days later ...

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  10. LOVE the Kettles and their films - I think my favorites are when they go to Paris and New York (always love the bit when Ma in New York gets the spa workover and then reappears all dolled up). Thanks for posting on them.

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    1. GOM,
      The trip they take to New York is one of the funniest of the bunch. Trying to find a babysitter for all those kids was quite the chore ...

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  11. I agree.. this is a cute family film, with some funny scenes as the fam is getting use to their new space-age home. My favorite Ma and Pa Kettle film is, "The Egg and I".

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    1. Dawn,
      That new home was really pretty nice even by today's standards with the huge entertainment center and big screen TV. Thanks for visiting ...

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  12. When I was growing up, my dad would always say something now and then about the Kettles, and of course we had no idea what he was talking about and decided this was one more reason why he was out of touch. Now, as a classic movie lover, I get it, and I'm glad you wrote about this film and series. BTW I love Marjorie Main; she's a scream.

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    1. CFB,
      Marjorie Main was great in every part she played. She definitely put 100% effort into everything and it certainly shows in the finished production ... Some people say she used to have conversations with her dead husband while on the set of some of her films, much like the eccentric widow in the Kettle films ...

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  13. Dave, you summed up this film succinctly: "It's not one of the most sophisticated films you'll ever see, but good, solid, clean family entertainment." That's good enough for me. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie when I saw it for the first time a few months ago. I especially liked Marjorie Main as Ma Kettle. Nothing seemed to faze her. What an amusingly down-market version of the happy homemakers of the more bourgeois comedies of the time (and later sitcoms on TV). Reading about the new house reminded me that while watching I wondered if Jacques Tati, who seemed to have an inclusive knowledge of American comedy films, saw this before making "Mon Oncle" with its famous inhuman monstrosity of a modern house.

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    1. R.D.,
      The Kettle films are just clean, wholesome fun. Something that's tough to find nowadays unless it's a "Disney" film. I haven't seen "Mon Oncle" but I've heard a lot about it. I'll keep an I eye for it ... Thanks ...

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  14. Dave ~ I’m sorry I missed your post on Thursday, but it certainly was worth the wait. I know there are those who discuss the Ma and Pa Kettle films in terms of the “Un-PC” nature of some of the plots, but I’m a fan. I think you captured the sweet nature of Ma and Pa’s relationship as the appeal of these films. Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride are perfectly suited to their characters, and you can’t imagine how Ma or Pa could survive without the other. My favorite film in the series is when the Kettle clan descended on Manhattan; the Big Apple received a few bruises on that vacation.

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  15. Gypsy,
    Yeah, there's a little too much "PC" nowadays regarding old films (and lots of other things, but we won't go into that here). I usually give a little "view in the context it was made speech" but I think most classic fims fans get it. I think it's mostly the casual viewer who stumbles upon an old film, has too much time on their hands, and starts a big to-do about the "PC" nature of the film without really thinking about it or understanding it. Thanks for the comment ...

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