I think some people hesitate to venture into classic film territory because they believe the stories they tell may be outdated. But as a wise man once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
When Ellen Murray returns home from college and reconnects with Doug, an old flame, she makes a decision which will put her mother’s liberal morals and the rest of her family’s sanity to the test.
Ellen has been raised in a seemingly privileged and normal home, her father a banker and her mother an author. But it doesn’t take long to discover, that her mother was quite the hell-raiser in her time, having been involved with poets and women’s liberation and becoming quite familiar with the inside of the jail. When Ellen and her boyfriend decide to spend a weekend away alone together before he departs overseas for two years, it sends the family into an uproar. Her mother finds her own moral beliefs sorely tested now that she has to apply them not only for herself but also for her daughter. Add in Ellen’s conservative father, cantankerous grandmother, flibbertigibbet aunt and her mother’s old flame who is visiting and you have a hilariously chaotic movie.
One of the things I enjoy about this film is the generational aspect. Mrs. Murray finds herself suddenly in sympathy with her own mother as she begins to experience for herself what it is like to have a daughter who challenges the status quo. And boy, does Granny get a kick out of the shoe finally being on the other foot, and yet she also gives some practical advice learned out of her own experience. The irony that Ellen’s mother currently has her own ex-beau staying as a guest in her house is lost on nobody but her sincere yet unsuspecting husband. Aunt Connie has also returned from Reno after her third divorce already on the hunt for her next husband and she is eyeing her sister-in-law’s beau. With a family like this it is a wonder Ellen had not already previously tested her boundaries.
The age gap between the generations is emphasized with each one thinking they know best and yet it is not the debate about what is acceptable and what is not that makes this movie so lovable. No, it is the characters themselves. They are a wacky bunch, each with their own personalities and foibles and yet they are a family who love each other and give each other room to be themselves. But in the meantime, they also set out to meddle in each other’s business providing some very funny moments in this screwball comedy.
At the time of this film’s release it was actually banned in some parts of the country due to its’ subject matter. Today many wouldn’t think twice about it, but at the time, the idea of a young unmarried couple going away for a weekend together was considered immoral. And although our world would not blink an eye at such behavior today, the conflict over moral boundaries between a parent and child is still very much relevant. Also relevant, is how a parent with a less than perfect past might impart strong character to their child without becoming a hypocrite. The fact that this film tackles these subjects with humor prevents its’ message from coming across as “preachy.”
Honestly, take away the theme and I would still enjoy watching this. The supporting roles are played by some of the best character actors in the business at the time (Fay Bainter, Roland Young, May Robson, Genevieve Tobin and Ian Hunter) and I would argue that they “make” the film. The shenanigans they all get themselves into made me laugh out loud. Priscilla Lane plays Ellen and as usual she is beautiful and pleasant to watch. This film is not currently on DVD, but if you are able to find it somewhere don’t miss it!