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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Movie of the Week... The Egg and I

Every now and then, we remember a film that we particularly love and just haven't seen for some time.  The Egg and I is just that kind of movie.

Several people are familiar with the Ma and Pa Kettle films of the 1950's, but what you might not know is that The Egg and I is the movie that started it all.  Although not the central characters, Ma and Pa Kettle are introduced to us as neighbors of Bob and Betty, a big city couple that tries their hand at farming in the great northwest.

The Egg and I is based on the book of the same name, written by Betty MacDonald.  While somewhat fictionalized, it is the story of Betty's attempts to reconcile herself to life on the dilapidated farm her husband surprises her with just after their wedding.  One of the most delightful aspects of the film is the transformation their shack goes through.  Even worse than a fixer-upper, it looks more like a tearer-downer when Betty first sees it.  Bob agrees that it could do with a "lick of paint", and what paint they must use!  By the time we see the couple again, they are in a house so charming and civilized, one might think that William Haines himself was in charge of the redo.

It would be hard for me to dislike this movie because it has one of my favorite actresses of all time in the lead.  Claudette Colbert is probably too old to be taken seriously as a newlywed, and Fred MacMurray is never very believable, but somehow it works perfectly.  By the time you reach the end, you wouldn't think of Bob and Betty as anyone other than Fred and Claudette.

Another aspect of the film that I particularly enjoy, and a trait that Colbert often displays in movies, is the ability to relate to anyone, no matter how different. Always band-box perfect herself, she never seems to think too highly of herself.  Ma Kettle, played by Marjorie Main, couldn't be less like Betty.  Hair askew, house destroyed by a flock of wild but lovable children and chickens and in desperate need of some good foundation garments, Ma Kettle would seem to be the kind of woman that would repulse the charming and ladylike Betty/Claudette.  Far from it.  Betty sees the best in Ma and they become fast friends, even working together to get the eldest Kettle son into the local agricultural college.  Percy Kilbride as Pa Kettle also milks his role to the utmost.  No man could be lazier, or more able to sponge off his new and unsuspecting neighbors, but in such a way that they seem to like him all the better for it.  In fact, The Egg and I is filled with funny and unexpected characters including a guard dog afraid of his own shadow, some very politically incorrect Indians and a woman who likes to pay unannounced visits to her neighbors with her husband...  although he has been dead for several years.

The Egg and I is the kind of movie your whole family will enjoy.  It's funny, it's clever and it has heart.  It might also get you hooked on the later Ma and Pa Kettle series.  While completely silly, the Kettles are genuinely funny and the situations they find themselves in will keep you guessing.

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