Time once again for Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movie Challenge, in which Mike’s Take on the Movies and I assign each other movies we’ve never seen before.
Mike was surprised that a big Irene Dunne fan like me had not seen this fish out of water story in which she plays a big city songwriter who meets a widowed rancher (Fred MacMurray) at the rodeo benefit she’s hosting. After one week’s whirlwind romance they marry and Dunne tries her best to adjust to her new life as stepmom, rancher’s wife and hard-working homemaker. MacMurray’s two daughters (Gigi Perreau and Natalie Wood) warm to her, the friends and neighbours adore her, and the widow that everyone assumed MacMurray would marry (Ann Doran) becomes Dunne’s close friend.
Despite some comical exasperation, a few failures and one major breakdown, Dunne does a good job adjusting and mastering all the chores and skills like riding and roping horses, milking cows, going camping, cooking cougar and making biscuits. She’d have avoided kitchen duty if she hadn’t fired the cook (Margaret Gibson) after she raided Dunne’s closet and used all her beauty products. Friction comes into this happy marriage from a misunderstanding over a visit by Dunne’s Broadway partner (Philip Ober) and also from the grouchy neighbour (William Demarest) who holds the water rights to the couple’s property and almost bankrupts them. Dunne wants to help and considers returning to songwriting but MacMurray insists on being the breadwinner.
The story was based on the real life of Broadway composer Kay Swift, and director George Marshall and the actors make it all cute by milking all the predictable differences between city and country, but never overdoing them. You’d expect the daughters to dislike or even sabotage Dunne for much of the plot, but they accept her quickly, are impressed by her “bravery” (or good show of it) and fill her in on MacMurray’s routines and favourite things. When MacMurray goes to visit Dunne’s Central Park West apartment, Marshall shows the progress of their courtship by focusing on their feet, showing MacMurray’s walk to the door changing from nervous shuffle to confident stride, and the Dunne’s dog first growling then warmly welcoming him.
Dunne gets some chances to display her screwball comedy talent. There’s a running gag where everyone puzzles over the function of Dunne’s poodle, which soon gets a makeunder and forms its own new family with one of the ranch dogs. During a storm the house leaks at the seams and Dunne rushes about trying to hold it together. My favourite bits had her eyeing the cougar from the day’s hunt and trying to find a turkey roaster to fit. She also did a good job in her scenes with Demarest, politely calling him “Smears” instead of Mears and lying about a potential real estate sale to squeeze some more water out of him. Even with slight material, Dunne is so charming and genial, she brings a little magic to the smallest gesture, like tinkling a song idea on a tuneless old toy piano, and you can see how she’d bring joy to this house and family.