Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ma and Pa Kettle

I mentioned back in July that I had never seen Ma and Pa Kettle before. I finally watched it then, and now that it's airing again, tomorrow at 8:30 AM ET on TCM, I can recommend it with a full-length post.

Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride star as Ma and Pa Kettle, the dirt-poor farmers with a brood of 16 or so children. They're about to be thrown off their farm, but things take a turn for the better. Pa had entered a contest to write a slogan for a pipe tobacco company, simply because he wanted the free pouch that came with every entry. However, the company decided that his was the best slogan, so he wins the grand prize -- an ultra-modern "house of the future". It's here that most of the humor in the movie lies, as the hillbillies are clearly unprepared to live in a push-button house, and so are fish out of water. Eventually, they begin to wonder whether this is really the house for them, and they might lose it anyway, since one of Ma's rivals is convinced Pa didn't really write the slogan. There's also a subplot about the oldest of the Kettle kids (played by Richard Long) having gone off to college, graduated, and returning home with the girl he's fallen in love with, a journalist concerned about the environment children are growing up with.

For the most part, the movie is good clean humor, but also inoffensive to the point of blandness. Perhaps some rural types back in 1949 might have been offended by the portrayal of the Kettles. After all, Hollywood had known for years that the folks in what we might now call "flyover country" didn't necessarily like how they were shown in movies; this was the basis for the famous "Sticks Nix Hick Pix" headline that appeared in Variety -- back in 1935. The rest of America liked the Kettles, however. They had appeared as supporting characters in The Egg and I, and their popularity in that movie led Universal to create Ma and Pa Kettle, giving them leading roles. It turned out to be so popular that they wound up in an entire series of movies stretching to eight more movies (although Percy Kilbride didn't appear in the last).

Ultimately, Ma and Pa Kettle is enjoyable enough for the whole family, if a little dated and vapid. It's made its way to a fairly inexpensive box set including The Egg and I and some later movies in the series, too.

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