Cast & Crew
Middle-aged New Yorker Mae Swasey is dedicated to her "Contacts and Contracts" business, through which she arranges marriages for lonely, shy and sometimes unattractive people. One afternoon, Mae consults with new client Hazel Gingras; Swedish bumbler Hjalmer Johannson; and optician George Wixted, to whom she wants to introduce Hazel. Mae then discovers that wealthy client Ina Kuschner has become engaged to handsome x-ray technician Matt Hornbeck, although Matt is unaware that Mae arranged their romance. When Mae leaves Matt's office, she accidentally is given the purse of model Christina "Kitty" Bennett, and cannot resist reading a letter to Kitty from her married boyfriend, who promises to treat her better. When Kitty reclaims her purse, Mae gently advises her to end the relationship, and Kitty storms off. Later, Ina's snobbish mother refuses to pay Mae's commission, but is quick to blame Mae when Matt jilts Ina at the altar. Mae finds Matt soon after, and he explains that he could not bear to tie himself down, even though Ina's father had promised to fund his x-ray clinic. Mae reveals that she is a marriage broker and had set him up with Ina, but her humor and pragmatism overcome his brief fit of anger. On Sunday, the day when Mae fixes up couples at her home, she successfully introduces Wixted and Hazel, and Johannson and another client, Delia Seaton. Kitty also visits Mae to apologize for her rude behavior, and informs Mae that her boyfriend has proposed. Mae subtly questions Kitty about her boyfriend's wife, and makes her understand that she cannot find happiness by breaking the heart of another woman. Mae's sympathy encourages Kitty to end the relationship, and she stays the night at Mae's apartment. The next morning, remembering a story told to her by a client, Mae pretends that she has lost an earring and that Kitty has swallowed it, in order to take her to meet Matt. Matt x-rays Kitty and does not find the earring, but is attracted to her when Mae insists that she is not trying to set them up. Mae and Kitty become good friends, although Kitty is still unaware of what Mae does for a living. Mae's secretary Alice is confused when Mae turns away a prospective client, also named Mrs. Swasey, for business has not been good and Mae is behind in her bills. Mae refuses to explain her reaction and instead helps two children who want to find happiness for their widowed father. That evening, Kitty goes out with Matt, and the couple quickly fall in love. Mae plots to make Matt jealous by sending flowers to Kitty, and her scheme works as the two spend more time together. Mae assures Matt that she has had nothing to do with his romance with Kitty, and taunts him about his declarations that he would never get married. Soon after, Hazel, who is engaged to Wixted, is selecting her trousseau at Kitty's shop, when her sister-in-law unwittingly informs Kitty about Mae's profession. Infuriated that Mae has meddled in her life, Kitty confronts her and calls her business despicable. Mae is heartbroken by Kitty's rejection, as is Matt, whom Kitty refuses to see. Feeling like a failure, Mae decides to take a vacation, but her departure is interrupted by the re-appearance of the other Mrs. Swasey, Emmy. Mae is cold toward Emmy, for twenty years earlier, Emmy had stolen Mae's husband Frank. Emmy confides in Mae that since Frank's death, she has been terribly lonely, and because she is no longer young and cute, she needs help finding another man. Mae is comforted by Emmy's confession but refuses to help her, then leaves for a health resort called Sharon Springs. As the weeks pass, Kitty begins to regret her harsh words to Mae and goes to find her at her her office. There, Mae's longtime friend, newspaper advertising executive Doberman, informs Kitty how badly she hurt Mae, who performs a much-needed service by helping socially inept people find happiness. Hoping to atone, Kitty arranges for fishing fleet owner Dan Chancellor to meet Mae at Sharon Springs, and a romance between the two blossoms. Kitty also reconciles with Matt, who proposes, and they share their good news with Mae upon her return. Matt inadvertently reveals that Kitty arranged Mae's romance, however, and Mae realizes that the staid Dan is not right for her. Mae fixes Emmy up with Dan, however, and happily returns to her office, where Doberman reveals that he is romantically interested in her himself.
Jay C. Flippen
Edna Mae Wonacott
Walter M. Scott
Best Costume Design
The Model and the Marriage Broker
Not so fast. The trick of The Model and the Marriage Broker is that this by-the-numbers romantic comedy routine is only a subplot, and the actual star of the film is Thelma Ritter as the puppet master responsible for manipulating all these incidents. Like the audience, she's a fan of this stuff, and knows how it's supposed to go. Sometimes love needs a little help, so if it takes some secret social engineering to contrive a "meet-cute," so be it-now, who wants to swallow an earring so we can go to the radiologist?
Thelma Ritter may not be anyone's first pick to top-line a romantic comedy-in fact, she was not known as a leading lady at all in any genre. Less than five years previously she made her screen debut, at the age of 45, in an uncredited bit part (in Miracle on 34th Street, 1947). For the next couple of years, Ritter continued to draw attention as a memorable supporting player in mostly uncredited walk-on roles. When she started earning Oscar® nominations for these supporting bits, casting directors started to take notice. In 1951, she was nominated again for her role in the romantic comedy The Mating Season, directed by Mitchell Leisen for screenwriter-producer Charles Brackett.
Brackett recognized her masterful comic timing, and had the confidence to give her the main stage in his production of The Model and the Marriage Broker later that same year.
Brackett knew something about the value of a breakout gig-his own breakthrough moment came back in 1938, after years of paying his dues as a struggling and largely unnoticed screenwriter. Brackett had been hired by the great Ernst Lubitsch to help write Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, where he met another aspiring writer by the name of Billy Wilder. Brackett and Wilder formed an instant partnership. Although their work on Bluebeard's Eighth Wife was unremarkable by anyone's standards (Lubitsch's, Wilder's, or Brackett's), it was the start of a lasting and influential collaboration.
Brackett's Old World gentility tempered Wilder's sarcasm, while Wilder's raunchy flippancy gave fire to Brackett's mellow side.
That fundamental difference in temperament, however, ultimately drove them apart. After 1950's Sunset Boulevard, Brackett and Wilder went their separate ways.
The Model and the Marriage Broker was one of the first pictures Brackett wrote and produced following his professional split from Wilder. In it, Thelma Ritter plays a matchmaker for hire, although her determination to see others happily married inspires her to do more "matchmaking" than the "for hire" part. When she meets model Jeanne Crain, her motherly instincts kick in and she can't help but engineer a perfect romantic comedy love affair with Scott Brady. But what about Ritter's own happiness? Who can write her happy ending, and what would it look like?
Brackett co-wrote the film with Walter Reisch and Richard Breen-fellow alums from Billy Wilder's films. Reisch and Brackett had also previously collaborated on Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka (1939). These experienced writers grounded The Model and the Marriage Broker in a gritty, lived-in humanity not often seen in romantic comedies-far from the light, airiness of the usual rom-com fantasy, this is a story about deeply lonely people, whose happiness is a long shot. Thelma Ritter's clients are funny-looking, socially awkward, wounded creatures. They deserve love as much as the next person, but when the next person is a stunning fashion model, it's clear they might need a helping hand. Although the film spends much of its running time exploring these supporting characters, and their seemingly doomed romantic prospects, the effect is uplifting and hopeful. There is none of Wilder's cynical venom to be seen, only Lubitsch-style tolerance and love.
Jeanne Crain was an accomplished ice skater who made her movie debut in 1943. By 1949 she had an Academy Award nomination to her name, for the leading role in Pinky, in which she played a light-skinned African-American passing for white in order to escape segregation. Her co-star Scott Brady was a familiar face from tough guy roles in Westerns and film noir, who would go on to have a busy career in television.
Director George Cukor was known for coaxing career-best performances from his already luminous and talented stars. In fact, it was that proficiency which had brought him to movies in the first place. During the 1920s Cukor was an accomplished Broadway director, and happy with his chosen career-Broadway was the better paying, more prestigious place to be in those days. As Hollywood made the transition to talkies, nervous studio executives feared their existing stable of silent directors would have no idea how to direct actors actually talking, and so hired Broadway veterans to handle dialog scenes. Cukor found himself swept up in that net, and thrust onto the movie soundstages, where he quickly proved his mettle, and found his calling.
"The great difference between the stage director and the film director is the extent of control which is necessary in the film studio," wrote Cukor in a 1938 essay. "In the film studio the player never steps outside the control of the director...[E]very scene which reaches the screen has passed the censorship of the director; he cannot please to be absolved from responsibility for the merest flicker of an eyelash, because it was at one time within his power to remake that scene and remake it again until he had the effect he desired. The fact that the scene is in the final film is proof that he decided it was good enough to be there."
Before long, Cukor had amassed a catalog of successes: Dinner at Eight (1933), Little Women (1933), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Gaslight (1944), Adam's Rib (1949), Born Yesterday (1950), to name just a few highlights. Cukor focused his energies on the actors, rather than camera technique. He told Peter Bogdanovich, "One can do very dazzling tricks-dazzling beauty and pyrotechnics-but unless the human heart is there I don't think it goes very deep."
By David Kalat
Peter Bogdanovich, Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors.
Richard Corliss, Talking Pictures: Screenwriters in the American Cinema
Richard Koszarski, Hollywood Directors 1914-1940
The Model and the Marriage Broker
The working titles of this film were The Marriage Broker and Kitty and the Marriage Broker. According to a modern source, director George Cukor initially wanted Joanne Dru for the role of "Kitty Bennett." The film marked the screen debut of actress Nancy Kulp, who is best known for her portrayal of "Miss Hathaway" on the popular 1960s television series The Beverly Hillbillies. The picture received an Academy Award nomination in the Costume Design (Black-and-White) category. On October 6, 1952 and May 24, 1954, Jeanne Crain and Thelma Ritter reprised their film roles for Lux Radio Theatre broadcasts of the story. For both broadcasts, their co-star was Stephen Dunne. In June 1957, Glenda Farrell, Kipp Hamilton and William Bishop starred in The Marriage Broker, a one-hour CBS television remake of the story, directed by Lewis Allen.
In June 1952, playwrights John Lewin and Max Lewin filed a lawsuit against Twentieth Century-Fox and the writers of The Model and the Marriage Broker, charging that the film was a plagiarism of their play, Mr. Doudalduck Gets Married. The studio won the case in January 1954, when a Superior Court judge ruled that there were not enough similarities between the film and the play to substantiate the plaintiffs' claims.