powered by AFI
Universal Studios had a hit with its rural comedy The Egg and I (1947), based on the Green Acres-like premise of a city couple trying to make a go of it on a dilapidated old farm. Although its stars were Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, a great deal of its down-home comic appeal was attributable to the pairing of Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as country couple Ma and Pa Kettle. The studio decided to put the two together again in the musical comedy Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' (1948), but not as the Kettles. It was further proof that this was a winning match as Universal prepared a Ma and Pa Kettle series for the team. The Main-Kilbride teaming lasted for eight more pictures over the following eight years. (Main returned for two more installments with a different actor after Kilbride had retired from acting.)
Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' plays on much the same fish-out-of-water formula that made The Egg and I a hit. Fast-talking traveling salesman Wilbur McMurty (Donald O'Connor) is kidnapped by the citizens of Rimrock, perennial losers in the annual footrace against rival town Big Bend, because he proves himself fast enough to be the only likely contender with a chance to win. Literally a prisoner of the Western town, he's told that if he loses, it's curtains for him, so McMurty is understandably reluctant to compete, that is until he falls for the daughter (Penny Edwards) of the salty lady mayor (played by Main).
Musical highlights include a duet between O'Connor and Penny Edwards, a former Ziegfeld performer who went on from this to a number of Western roles, often subbing for a pregnant Dale Evans in Roy Rogers movies. There's also an appearance by the Sportsman Quartet, regulars on Jack Benny's show. And the studio, as it hoped, got a lot of comic mileage out of the interplay between Main as the mayor and Percy Kilbride as a local stableman who serves as her political assistant.
The film was in production as "The Wonderful Race at Rimrock," the name of the 1946 Collier's magazine story by D.D. Beauchamp on which he based the screenplay. Beauchamp's writing was the source for another Marjorie Main vehicle, as the title character in the Abbott and Costello comedy The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947). He wrote a few more films for Abbott and Costello, as well as several Westerns over the next decade and eventually found success writing for such television shows as Rawhide, The Virginian, and Gentle Ben. Some of Beauchamp's movie scripts were for George Sherman, the director of Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin', who also directed several Beauchamp-penned episodes of the frontier TV series Daniel Boone.
According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter published September 1948, producer Lee Shubert (of Shubert Theater fame) and the comedy team of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson filed suit against Universal, claiming that they owned a sizable percentage of the motion picture rights to the title Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' and the song "Feudin' and Fightin'" for which they felt they were not fairly compensated. That song, by Burton Lane and Al Dubin, was used in the movie, along with "S'posin'" and the Al Jolson standard "Me and My Shadow." The final disposition of the suit is not known.
Audiences may recognize Joe Besser, the actor playing the town sheriff, as the pudgy, balding player who made up the third of the Three Stooges (with Moe and Larry) after the deaths of the other two Howard brothers, Curly and Shemp, respectively (and before Joe DeRita). The part of Emory Tuttle is played by Fred Kohler, Jr., whose father appeared with the Stooges in a 1935 film.
Director: George Sherman
Producer: Leonard Goldstein
Screenplay: D.D. Beauchamp, based on his short story
Cinematography: Irving Glassberg
Editing: Edward Curtiss
Art Direction: Bernard Herzbrun, Frank A. Richards
Cast: Donald O'Connor (Wilbur McMurty), Marjorie Main (Maribel Matthews), Percy Kilbride (Billy Caswell), Penny Edwards (Libby Matthews), Joe Besser (Sharkey Dolan).
by Rob Nixon