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Made for Each Other

Made for Each Other(1939)

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David O. Selznick's idea of the problems of an average 'unimportant' young man (as James Stewart's character is described in the opening text) becomes a dated melodrama in Made for Each Other. The show has some highly affecting sentimental scenes, and some of the worst story construction in Hollywood history. Stewart's sincerity and self-doubt rivals his turn as George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, and Carole Lombard is charmingly warm and loving, as irresistible here as she was in her zany screwball comedies. But the heavy hand of Selznick tries to cram too many movies into one plot.

Synopsis: Struggling attorney John Mason (James Stewart) marries Jane (Carole Lombard) during a weekend trip to Boston, disappointing both his stuffy boss (Charles Coburn) and his hypercritical mother (Lucile Watson), both of whom expected John to hook up with the boss's rich daughter. Domestic problems put wife and mother-in-law in opposite corners, even after a baby is born. Passed over for promotion, John becomes convinced that he's a failure, and on a sorry New Year's Eve considers the idea of breaking up - until his infant son falls ill with pneumonia.

Made for Each Other has some wonderful emotions and fine, unpretentious acting from James Stewart and Carole Lombard, who are completely convincing as a young couple hopelessly in love and trying to cope with familiar financial problems. John and Jane Mason are about as endearing as a movie couple can get, even though John's self-doubt and defeatism doesn't jibe with his supposed tenacity and assertiveness as a trial lawyer.

The movie overflows with dated ideas from the 1930s that need a little explaining now. Jane is a journalist but will give that up without a second thought to become a housewife. Babies are the perfect cure for unhappy relationships. A contented black maid dispenses wisdom in the form of a jaw-dropping story about watermelons. But other things haven't changed. Both John and Jane measure the marital success in terms of material success - getting the promotion, the big apartment, the new furniture.

Frank Capra may have been a little patronizing with his protrayals of the problems of the Little People in his "Capracorn" movies. But for the silver spoon-fed David O. Selznick, the upwardly mobile attorney played by James Stewart in Made for Each Other represents some kind of downtrodden minority. In the context of the late Depression, a dialogue line gets in the anti-Roosevelt jab that until election time, business will be giving all their profits to the government.

Furthermore, the real villains of the movie seem to be the uncouth servants that make demands and ruin Stewart's dinner parties. When Carole Lombard finally gets perfect domestic help in the form of Louise Beavers, the family's money woes force the couple to forego servants and fend for themselves. That's Selznick's idea of a dire situation. I don't think he'd sympathize with the problems of the deserving lovebirds in Preston Sturges' Christmas in July who can't marry because of grinding poverty, and can only see each other on a tenement rooftop. Selznick establishes that his couple are suffering crushing debt, yet can go out to an expensive nightclub on New Years' Eve.

Made for Each Other is an endearing movie, directed with emotional clarity by John Cromwell and interestingly designed by William Cameron Menzies. But its final act is a ridiculous mess. The baby's pneumonia can be cured only with a wonder serum that needs to be flown in from Salt Lake City during a blizzard. The domestic story goes out the window in favor of a full-blown aviation subplot from Only Angels Have Wings while the entire country holds its breath over the fate of the Mason's infant. Selznick overplays his hand, with prayers to the Virgin Mary resulting in the miraculous survival of the mercy plane and its intrepid pilot. "Saving the baby" was a common Depression-era plot chestnut, and all of the characters previously hostile to our couple's situation naturally come to their aid.

What we really learn is that getting a lot of sympathy for a sick child can change everything for the better. No sooner is the little squab healthy than John becomes the most important man in the law firm and all problems are solved. It's the worst pandering in any Selznick movie, and one has to credit the depthless charm of Lombard and Stewart that the movie is still enjoyable. The film is more proof that Hollywood lost one of its brightest stars when Carole Lombard died in a terrible airplane accident a couple of years later.

Among the supporting cast are Ward Bond as a reluctant pilot and Olin Howland (the first victim of the original The Blob) as a farmer who helps rush that wonder drug to the hospital. It's almost 20 years before The Blob, but Howlind is already playing a doddering old man.

MGM's DVD of Made for Each Other is another of their ABC acquisitions, although the film started out 65 years ago as a United Artists release. The print is reasonably good, certainly much better than the many substandard Public Domain copies I've seen over the years. There are no extras.

For more information about Made for Each Other, visit MGM DVD. To order Made for Each Other, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson