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The town gossips are reporting that a household servant in exclusive Rocky Point is writing an expose of the colony. Mrs. Sophia Sommerfield is convinced it can't be either one of her maids, Martha Lindstrom or Mrs. McKessic, although, unknown to Sophia, she is totally unaware that her son, Jeff, is married to Martha. At the moment, Jeff wants a divorce so he can marry another woman. The book comes out and Sophia is relieved to find that Martha's book does not reveal Sophia's fondness for reading "true-confession" magazines, nor mention that Sophia's young daughter, Mirand, writers her club reports for Sophia. Other items are cleaned up, also. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
"The Affairs of Martha" (1942) is a good illustration of how even a dream cast and solid directing cannot transform a weak script into anything more than a very average production. Imagine having the luxury of Marsha Hunt as your leading lady and female love interest; surround her with some of the best comic character actors of the era (Virginia Weidler, Marjorie Main, Margaret Hamilton, Spring Byington, and Grady Sutton); finally throw in Richard Carlson's best ever performance. Any movie buff would expect quite a treat from this ensemble.
In writer Isobel Lennart's defense, Weidler was miscast; what are hilarious lines coming from a precocious 11-year-old (for which the part was written and for which Weidler would have been perfect a few years earlier) just don't work coming from a 15-year-old actress who looks even older. Following this film with several similar disasters Weidler retired from the business.
Contrary to the plot summary, young housekeeper Martha Linddstrom's soon to be published book is not the real focus of the film. It is a romantic comedy much like "Bringing Up Baby", and could have benefited from a few of that film's screwball elements. Jeff Sommerfield (Carlson) returns home from a long absence with his new fiancée Sylvia in tow. Jeff does not reckon on the continued presence of Martha (Marsha Hunt) in his parent's household. Just prior to his departure he married his parent's housekeeper at the conclusion of a drunken bender. Because she is genuinely in love with him Martha did not follow through on her promise to have the marriage annulled but instead has worked to improve herself in night school and has just completed a book lauding his family.
Oddly, coming from a misunderstood woman writer and centered on a misunderstood woman writer, Lennart takes a lot of cheap shots at the third side of the screenplay's love triangle. Academic Sylvia Norwood (Francis Drake) is beautiful, intellectual, accomplished, and very well-adjusted. This is not the sterile Alice Swallow character in "Bringing Up Baby". Sylvia must serve as the film's villainess, which not only fails to generate any audience concern (Jeff would benefit greatly from being paired with either woman), it totally undermines the working woman political subtext of the production.
Along with Carlson's performance there are several very good things about "The Affairs of Martha". Marsha Hunt (as always) is excellent in both melodramatic and comedic moments; its just too bad her character as written is so bland. For my money Hunt is the Hollywood's all-time most underrated actress and I've enjoyed her each time I've seen her. Grady Sutton has the film's best moment early in the film in a nonverbal sequence at the breakfast table; unfortunately his character is not developed further Given the film's very short running length and its failure to develop many of the most amusing secondary characters it is likely that much was trimmed out during the editing process.
There is a clever dinner table scene near the end of the film in which Jeff is emotionally ranting against writers and publishers; a demonstration that further alienates Martha. Eventually you understand that it is a ploy to delay the announcement of his engagement to Sylvia but it works as a very nice bit of misdirection.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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