Grounds for Marriage
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"Fun! Songs! Romance!" is how MGM advertised Grounds for Marriage, a 1951 musical comedy starring Kathryn Grayson and Van Johnson. Based on an original story by producer Samuel Marx, with a script by Samuel Marx (who also produced), Laura Kerr and Allen Rivkin, it was directed by Robert Z. Leonard on a six week shooting schedule from mid-May to late June 1950.
In the film, Grayson plays Ina Massine, an opera diva, and Johnson is her ex-husband, Dr. Lincoln Bartlett, who is now engaged to Agnes Young (Paula Raymond), the daughter of a doctor. Ina wants Lincoln back and pulls all kinds of shenanigans to get her man. The film was really just an excuse to watch Grayson sing selections from La Bohème, although curiously, she was not the first actress cast in the role. June Allyson had the part but was later replaced. Likewise, Robert Walker was set to play Lincoln Bartlett but was replaced with Van Johnson.
Paula Raymond later said about the film, "I played [...] the second lead to Kathryn Grayson. I had to play that pretty coldly, because the sympathy script-wise was with my character who was being ditched for this frantic diva who was making so much trouble for my fiancé. That wasn't really too satisfactory." More enjoyable was getting to know composer Bronislau Kaper, who was writing the original score for the film. "There was a sign over my nameplate on my portable dressing room, I couldn't make out what it said. They told me, 'Oh, that's Bronislau Kaper; he's scoring the movie.' After meeting him, I would go over to Bronie's bungalow, he would sit at the piano and play, I'd sing and I would bring a lot of my collection of music."
Grounds for Marriage premiered in New York on Jan 11, 1951 and in Los Angeles the following night. It was not well received by the critics. The Rotarian called the plot, "simply a frame on which to hang well-done musical sequences, comic 'acts' such as the rehearsal of the physicians' amateur orchestra, the throat specialist's lecture on the ridiculousness of fear of the common cold while painfully aware of a dangerous draft. Slight, but good fun." Bosley Crowther's review in The New York Times questioned the sanity of the screenwriters in having Grayson's character have psychosomatic laryngitis throughout much of the film; essentially placing her in a mostly non-singing role. "Miss Grayson is rendered unable to sing for a lengthy stretch in this picture when her talents might be most well employed. In view of the fact that the writers have provided little else to fill the void, we can only assume that they, too, were suffering-from, perhaps, a temporary loss of mind. For Miss Grayson's singing in her pictures has generally been their chief delight. Miss Grayson standing around smiling while Van Johnson clowns is not the same. And Mr. Johnson's clowning as a doctor who is attempting to avoid the romantic onsets of his ex-wife is the principal substance of this film."
Despite the bad reviews, Van Johnson and Kathryn Grayson recreated their roles a year later on the Lux Radio Theater in November 1952.
Producer: Samuel Marx
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Screenplay: Laura Kerr, Allen Rivkin; Samuel Marx (story)
Cinematography: John Alton
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Film Editing: Fredrick Y. Smith
Cast: Van Johnson (Dr. Lincoln I. Bartlett), Kathryn Grayson (Ina Massine), Paula Raymond (Agnes Oglethorpe Young), Barry Sullivan (Chris Bartlett), Reginald Owen (Dely Delacorte), Lewis Stone (Dr. Carleton Radwin Young), Richard Hageman (Dr. Engelstaat), Richard Anderson (Tommy), Paula Drew (Helen), Victor Desny (Count de Beaugard),Theresa Harris (Stella, Ina's Maid), Robert Sherwood (Petie), Elizabeth Flournoy (Brevarde), Torben Meyer (Donovan).
C-90m. Closed Captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
The AFI Catalog of Feature Film
"Grounds for Marriage" The New York Times 18 Jun 51
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The Rotarian Mar 51