The challenges of married life, such as that experienced by Carole Lombard and James Stewart in 1939's "Made For Each Other," haven't been a frequent topic of Hollywood -- whether it was during the classic era of the '30s and '40s or in later decades (and this includes television as much as film). The industry loves to examine the battle to get to a marital union...but once that union is reached, it moves to a different subject.
That's the theme of noted film historian Jeanine Basinger's new book, "I Do And I Don't" (with Carole and James on the cover). During the Production Code era, Basinger states, one theme remains dominant: “that marriage is all most couples will ever have: it will be children, a home, and each other.”
That certainly wasn't true for most of the William Powell-Myrna Loy movies, whether or not they were portraying Nick and Nora Charles. Yes, Bill and Myrna respected the sanctity of the institution of matrimony (even with twin beds), but they had fun -- and one sensed that when the camera was off, their characters were having even more fun (and I emphasize characters; for all the romance they brought to the screen, they never were real-life lovers). But they were an exception to the rule. Most of the time, films about marriage reflected what Basinger calls "how audiences liked to be lied to about things they knew from their own lives."
That was true in "Made For Each Other," Basinger writes, as the Stewart-Lombard couple undergo all sorts of tribulations -- both internal and external -- after they tie the knot. It's resolved, of course, and she notes “This pattern of pretense toward honesty, capped off by exaggerated resolution, was the ‘I do’ marriage movie pattern. Affirm, question, reaffirm, and resolve.”
Washington Post reviewer Charles Matthews calls the book "not only a necessary addition to our understanding of movies about marriage, but it’s also a refreshingly clear-headed book about marriage itself." I look forward to reading it.