Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thelma Ritter Shines in The Mating Season

Within days of meeting under unusual circumstances, Val McNulty (John Lund) and Maggie Carleton (Gene Tierney) decide to get married. Val is a working-class junior executive who believes Maggie's family is affluent. Yet, while Maggie's mother has hobnobbed with royalty as an ambassador's wife, the family has little money of its own. Mother and daughter may look like socialites, but they lack the means to maintain that lifestyle.

Thelma Ritter as Ellen.
Still, when Val's down-to-earth mother Ellen (Thelma Ritter) arrives unexpectedly, her son becomes concerned that she'll look and feel out of place. A hard-working woman, Ellen has finally sold the diner that she kept alive after her husband's death. She doesn't even have time to explain her situation before Val gives her money to buy a new dress for the wedding. Concerned that her son is ashamed of her, Ellen skips the nuptials.

However, instead of returning home, she stays in Ohio and--through an unusual turn of events--winds up as the live-in cook in the home of the married Val and Maggie. By this point, Val can't begin to explain his mother's presence--and he doesn't even try. He and his mother conspire to keep her true identity a secret...even after Maggie's mother decides to move into the crowded apartment for an extended stay.

Gene Tierney as Maggie.
Despite a far-fetched premise, the oddly-titled The Mating Season (1952) generates a satisfying amount of situational humor. It's one of those comedies where you can easily guess the outcome, but don't mind because the road there is a pleasant drive. Still, considering that Billy Wilder collaborator Charles Brackett had a hand in adapting the original stage play, it's hard not to imagine that The Mating Season could have been better. 

The film's cast is both its strength and weakness. It's pretty much a showcase for Thelma Ritter, who had earned her first Oscar nomination for the previous year's All About Eve. She is in top form in The Mating Season; she wisely chooses to play her role as drama and allows the comedy situations to generate the laughs. She makes Ellen a character that's easy to root for--a tough cookie with plenty of common sense who's willing to do anything for her son. Her performance earned Ritter her second consecutive Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She would eventually receive a total of six nominations in that category--and yet somehow never register a win. 

The rest of the cast is a mixed blessing. Gene Tierney exudes radiance and charm as Maggie. Thus, the audience doesn't blame her when her expectations lead her husband to live beyond his means (until his Mom comes to the rescue). As Maggie's mater, Miriam Hopkins is amusing in a one-note fashion. 

John Lund as Val.
That leaves John Lund as the film's chief liability. Lund comes across as a lightweight version of Van Johnson, but with none of Johnson's celluloid appeal. Yes, the screenwriters share the blame, too, but the bottom line is that it's difficult to fathom what attracted Maggie to Val (beyond a physical attracton). And worse, Val rarely seems to fully appreciate all that his mother has done for him.

As a final assessment, The Mating Season is an amusing showcase that reminds one just how good Thelma Ritter could be. That may not be a glowing critique, but it'll do for Ritter fans.


  1. Love the cast in this very charming comedy, that will brighten your day.

  2. Oddly, TCM Canada did not have the rights to show "The Mating Season" on Thelma Ritter Day. They have shown it often in the past. The ways and issues of "rights" is a puzzle to me.

    I adore the ending with Larry Keating. It gives me a warm feeling all day long.

  3. I'm very fond of this movie - mostly for Thelma Ritter, who just shines. I'm not a huge John Lund fan, but Val, to me, is window dressing for the growing relationship between Ellen and Maggie.

  4. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this movie. Thelma Ritter is the best thing about this terrific film, and that's saying a lot about a cast that includes Miriam Hopkins and Gene Tierney.

    1. I agree. The whole movie is great. Thelma was terrific. The ending was perfect.

  5. Thanks for giving a wonderful shout out to the wonderfully talented Thelma Ritter. Love her!

  6. This is my favorite Thelma Ritter film and the one I think should have been her winning performance. It's really the lead but since Gene Tierney was nominally in that spot she ended in supporting. She didn't stand a chance that year against the Streetcar juggernaut and that's a shame.

    This is the film, along with the same year's The Model and the Marriage Broker, that gave her the best showcase. I've always loved Larry Keating's work in this too. He and Thelma have a wonderful silk and sandpaper chemistry.

  7. I was remiss not to mention Larry Keating, who was quite good and should have been in at least a couple more scenes. I always thought he was amusing in MISTER ED, too.