Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Egg and I

I mentioned some time back that I picked up a Claudette Colbert box set, and have reviewed three (I think) of the six movies on it. Another of the films in the set is The Egg and I, which is going to be on TCM tonight at 8:00 PM. So once again, I put it in the DVD player and watched it so I could do a post on it.

Claudette Colbert plays Betty McDonald, who at the start of the movie is on a train some time after the main action of the movie. A Pullman porter accidentally drops a breakfast egg, and Betty talks about the importance of the lowly egg, leading us into the main action of the film.... Betty is a city slicker recently married to Bob McDonald (Fred MacMurray), who fought in the recently won World War II and returned to do some sort of big-city office job. However, like the GI in The Best Years of Our Lives who was asking Fredric March for a loan to become a farmer, Bob decided in the trenches that he wanted to do something different with his life, so he bought a farm sight unseen.

The plan is to raise chickens on the farm and then sell the eggs, which seems like it would be a tough proposition for anybody who's never done any farming before. And, unsurprisingly, it's going to be even more difficult because this is a dilapidated little farmhouse: the roof leaks, the wood on the porch is rotting, the furniture in the farm-house seems generally run down, and the like. It's all the sort of thing that's an obvious target for humor as other movies like George Washington Slept Here and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Housedid. (There's also the Zachary Scott movie The Southerner which did it in a more dramatic sense.)

In any case, the McDonalds start putting sweat equity into the property, and start meeting the neighbors. Chief among them are the Kettles. Pa (Percy Kilbride) is a bit of a lovable con artist, Ma (Marjorie Main) is a woman with wisdom born of experience on the farm, and Tom (Richard Long) is the oldest of the Kettles' brood of 15 or so kids. Tom has just graduated high school and clearly has the talent to go on college, and he has the desire to become an engineer. But there's a question of whether he could support himself while going to college full-time. One other neighbor is Harriet Pullman (Louise Albritton), who owns another farm, and seems to have people run it for her as she's always impossibly well-dressed for a farmer and doesn't look like she's done a day's worth of farm work. If she had, she'd look more like Ma Kettle.

Along the way, the McDonalds learn a thing or two about farming, and actually start to get a bunch of hens laying eggs, but there's also a lot of difficulty. One problem comes when there's a forest fire that also burns down their farm, killing most of the chickens. But there's also Harriet; Betty gets the distinct impression that she's got a thing for Bob, and Bob seems to be spending entirely too much time with Harriet.

The Egg and I is a fairly gentle comedy that's probably best remembered as being the movie that spawned the whole Ma and Pa Kettle series. The Kettles were popular enough in this film that Universal decided to build a series around them, and their rural way of life untouched by modernity. But the rest of the movie works fairly well, even if none of the plot lines are particularly original. MacMurray and Colbert had starred in a handful of movies together over at Paramount before World War II, and they're an appealing couple here. And the movie isn't being gratuitously mean to those dumb hillbillies. Pretty much everybody is a decent person here, and even Harriet turns out not to be bad.

If you haven't seen The Egg and I before, it's a movie that's definitely worth watching.

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