Wednesday, April 08, 2009

cinema obscura: Mervyn LeRoy's "Mary, Mary" (1963) / Jean Kerr on Film

In his Friday, October 25, 1963 review, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:

"Obviously, Mervyn LeRoy did a little bit more than merely place his camera in the Helen Hayes Theater and shoot a straight running photograph of a performance of 'Mary, Mary' to get a film of the Jean Kerr comedy. But you would hardly be able to tell it from the rigidly setbound quality of his film version of the long-run stage play, which came to the (Radio City) Music Hall yesterday."

That just about says it all. Rarely has a film of a play been as faithful as LeRoy's film version of Kerr's urbane comedy, which was the most celebrated stage farce of its time. As Crowther indicated, the work of LeRoy's art director John Beckman and set decorator Ralph S. Hurst borrows heavily from the play's famed designer, Oliver Smith. Debbie Reynolds took over Barbara Bel Geddes's stage role, but the play's leading men, Barry Nelson and Michael Rennie, were back on that familiar set.

Yes, the film - about a divorced couple brought together for income tax purposes - is stagebound, but that's not necessarily bad. I like the idea of being transported back to the Helen Hayes Theater in 1960. The film perfectly approximates the joy of attending a matinee performance of a stylish, sophisticated comedy.

Warners' apprehension about releasing it to DVD is unfortunate, but "Mary, Mary" is not alone: Another LeRoy take on a play - his 1961 film verion of Leonard Spielgass' "A Majority of One" - has also been missing for years. How about releasing them on disc as a double bill?

Jean Kerr, who wrote "Mary, Mary," was of course the wife of the Times' great theater critic, Walter Kerr, and her adventures as the wife of a critic has been the subject of two other films - Charles Walters' bubbly "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960), with Doris Day and David Niven as Jean's and Walter's on-screen surrogages, and Don Weis' "Critic's Choice," the film version of the 1960 Ira Levin stage comedy with Bob Hope as a theater critic whose wife, played by Lucille Ball, writes her own play.

By the way, Otto Preminger directed the original play and Henry Fonda played the role of the critic. "Critic's Choice" is new to DVD.

Artwork: Poster art for "Mary, Mary," "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" and "Critic's Choice," all connected by the late playwright Jean Kerr

Getting back to Debbie Reynolds, she has more than her share of lost movies. Among those missing from home entertainment formats are these made within a five-year period in the early 1960s: Frank Tashlin's "Say One for Me" (1959), George Marshall's "The Gazebo" and "It Started with a Kiss" (both 1959), Robert Mulligan's "The Rat Race" (1960), George Seaton's "The Pleasure of His Company" (1961), Gower Champion's "My Six Loves" (1963) and Vincente Minnelli's "Goodbye, Charlie" (1964). (Sounds like Debbie should get busy on her DVD titles.)

Reynolds' "The Mating Game," also directed by Marshall in '59, is one of the titles at long last being made available through,. Yes, Reynolds and Marshall made three - count 'em - three titles in 1959.

Note in Passing: Some Reynolds trivia... Her co-star in both "The Rat Race" and "Goodbye, Charlie" is Tony Curtis. Glenn Ford is her leading man in both "The Gazebo" and "It Started with a Kiss."


Smitty said...

Yes, "Mary, Mary." I'd like to see it again. And "Goodbye, Charlie," too. Maybe Turner? It resurrected "The Rat Race" after all.

Sheila said...

"Mary, Mary" was the first Boadway play that my parents took me to see. I still can't get over how close the film was to it. I wish I could have it on video.

Daryl Chin said...

GOODBYE, CHARLIE is a 20th Century-Fox film and has made the rounds on the Fox Movie Channel.

MARY, MARY is a Warners film, but a lot of the Warners films from the late 1950s and early 1960s seem to be in some limbo. (Others include: THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, HOME BEFORE DARK, THE CHAPMAN REPORT.) But i do remember seeing it (it played at Radio City Music Hall) and enjoying it. (And it was one of the rare opportunities that Diane McBain had to show some of her comic style, which was always on display in the TV show SURFSIDE SIX.)

John said...

Coincidently, like Sheila, "Mary, Mary" was the first Broadway play my parents took me too. I fell in love with the theater with this play. Never saw the movie but I sure would like too. "The Rat Race" is a good film and certainly worthy of a DVD release. Nice performances by Reynolds, Curtis and a slimy Don Rickles. "Goodbye Charlie", based on a George Axelrod play, is light and fun. Reynolds is very good. Curtis I always thought was underrated. I always like George Axelrod's work.

D. said...

"Mary, Mary" is Warner Brothers, so that would seem a natural fit for Turner Classic Movies, since Turner owns the Warner backlist, but there seems to be an aversion to showing Warner product from the late 1950s and early 1960s on TCM.(Where's "Home Before Dark", which Mr. Baltake has previously written about? in fact, where are a lot of the Mervyn LeRoy films or the Delmer Daves films from that period? In the case of Daves, where are "Parrish" - i still have childhood memories of Diane McBain, Sharon Hugueny, and Connie Stevens telling Troy Donahue how, when it really gets hot, she sleeps raw - and my six-year-old voice suddenly piping up to ask my cousin who had taken me to see the movie - i wanted to go because i was a big fan of "Surfside Six" and "Hawaiian Eye" and i wanted to see McBain and Stevens in a real movie - "what does she mean, raw?" - "Susan Slade", "Spencer's Mountain" - another fond childhood memory, of Mimsy Farmer touching James MacArthur's sunburn - "Rome Adventure", "A Summer Place" and "Youngblood Hawke"?)

chris schneider said...

I *believe* that I saw reference earlier today to "Mary, Mary" being released to DVD.

Saw a local production -- so-so, at best -- of the Jean Kerr theatrical script years back. I mainly remember the bit about the (live) TV ad where the person on camera exhales a cigarette and says "MAN, that's good coffee!" (This being an anecdote told by the heroine.)

Oh, yes, and the ending struck me as a trifle "Playboy of the Western World"-ish. But that's the subject of a whole different discussion.

Paula said...

Hi MARY MARY lovers:

I've found it on DVD. Go to www.wbshop (Warner brothers site), then go to the Archives Collection.

It's not digitally remastered but it's a good copy, even letterboxed. Only $19.95.

Oh happy day.