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The Mating Season

The Mating Season(1951)

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teaser The Mating Season (1951)

The Mating Season (1951) may feature Gene Tierney and Miriam Hopkins in the starring roles but the main draw of the movie is Thelma Ritter. The supporting actress's outstanding comedic performance, as the working class mother of an upwardly mobile son (played by John Lund), carries the movie. It also earned Ritter her second of six Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Ritter's other nominations were for All About Eve (1950), With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Pillow Talk (1959) and Birdman of Alcatraz [1962]). Tierney stars as Ritter's daughter-in-law in The Mating Season and Hopkins rounds out the cast in a supporting role as Tierney's mother.

The fact that Hopkins wasn't the star of the film would've been news to her. Known for being difficult on the set, Hopkins' behavior on The Mating Season was no exception. As the film's director Mitchell Leisen later commented, "Gene Tierney was a doll. It's always easy to work with Johnny Lund, and I adored Thelma Ritter. They were all wonderful...everything went along fine until we started shooting the scenes Miriam Hopkins was in." As Eleanor Broder (Leisen's assistant) remembers it, "Miriam Hopkins drove Mr. Leisen crazy. She couldn't seem to get it through her head that she was playing only a supporting role and was not the star of the picture. Every night she figured out all the things she could do with her lines...her ideas were very good, but they detracted from Gene Tierney and [John] Lund who were the real stars of the story."

Hopkins went so far as to make acting suggestions to Gene Tierney about a scene she wasn't even in. But Leisen, who was by then an experienced director (he made his directorial debut in 1933 with the film Cradle Song), took the prima donna posturing in stride. His assistant recalls that "Leisen was always polite to [Hopkins] and never attempted to discourage her. He filmed whatever she wanted but he had no intention of using those scenes in the picture." Leisen even rearranged his shooting schedule to work around Hopkins. During a scene featuring Ritter and Lund, with Hopkins in the background, Leisen changed lenses to ensure Hopkins was out of focus. He then shot close ups of Ritter and Lund to avoid using the medium shots with Hopkins, acting to distraction, in the background.

Leisen trained to be an architect and worked as an interior designer before coming to Hollywood. His first job in the movies was as a costume designer on films such as Douglas Fairbanks' The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and Cecil B. DeMille's The Sign of the Cross (1932), where Leisen also served as art director. Leisen first took the reigns as director on Cradle Song (1933). Some of his most famous films as a director include: Death Takes a Holiday (1934); Easy Living (1937) starting Jean Arthur; Remember the Night (1940) with a script by Preston Sturges and stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray; and Hold Back the Dawn (1941).

For Hold Back the Dawn Leisen teamed with screenwriting duo Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Leisen, Wilder and Brackett had previously worked together on Midnight (1939) and Arise, My Love (1940). Leisen would make two more films with Brackett, sans Billy Wilder -- To Each His Own (1946) as well as The Mating Season. Instead of teaming with Wilder who was now busy writing and directing his own films, Brackett penned the script for The Mating Season with Walter Reisch and Richard Breen. Two years later, this same screenwriting threesome would win the Oscar® for Best Screenplay for Titanic (1953).

Thelma Ritter's nomination would be the only Oscar® recognition for The Mating Season. But Leisen would be honored with the Bronze Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, naming The Mating Season as Best Comedy.

Producer: Charles Brackett
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Richard Breen, Walter Reisch, Caesar Dunn (play)
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Film Editing: Frank Bracht
Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira
Music: Joseph J. Lilley
Cast: Gene Tierney (Maggie Carleton McNulty), John Lund (Val McNulty), Miriam Hopkins (Fran Carleton), Thelma Ritter (Ellen McNulty), Jan Sterling (Betsy), Larry Keating (Mr. Kalinger).
BW-101m. Closed captioning.

by Stephanie Thames

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