Every Sunday, Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tell you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents:
The Egg and I (1947)
Shortly after World War II, the country seemed to still be steeped in the kinds of light-hearted comedies that brought a sense of escapism and simpler times that no one really believed existed anymore. We tend to still look at the 50s as a carefree idealistic time, but that’s romanticism and hindsight. If you study history at all, you know that the country lost its virginity in 1945.
But that doesn’t mean it feel deep into the gritty realism of film. In some ways, it actually retreated, and in others filmmakers were attempting to blend comedy and drama to mixed results.
In The Egg and I, a true studio flick, two of the major stars of the day were paired for the sixth time as a husband and wife who leave the city for an egg farm. Claudette Colbert had already been acting for 20 years, and Fred MacMurray had found fame through both comedy and thrillers. Not a bad mix if you can get the ingredients right. The two had fantastic chemistry, and it must have been that chemistry that inexperienced writer/director Chester Erskine was depending upon.
The flick essentially starts in the second act as Bob MacDonald tells his wife Betty on their honeymoon that they are going to raise chickens for a living on a run-down farm. They’re in the truck – complete with a goat and cow in the bed – rambling down the road into the country within the first few frames, and it’s only through fixing up the place that we get a sense of their relationship.
But it’s not really all that deep of a film. It’s a ton of comic set ups built for pay offs which occasionally have the added bonus of pushing the story along. Betty falling down in the mud chasing after a pig, a hilarious monologue from Bob as he describes the splendor of the decrepit house in unfailing optimism, the easy jokes of a fish out of water on the farm.
Of course, if Universal was banking on Colbert and MacMurray to carry the film, they were in for a surprise as The Egg and I succeeded in a seriously non-traditional way. It launched 9 successful spin-offs. But not featuring the main characters.
The real winners of the flick are neighbors Ma and Pa Kettle (Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride) – who are far more famous names in comedy than Bob and Betty MacDonald. Pa Kettle plays like a prototype for the wacky neighbor who borrows things he intends never to return and sweetly bothers the couple at inopportune times.
What the movie does right is build both a story and a community around the couple. Before Pa Kettle drives up in his horse-drawn jalopy, it seems like the couple might just be out in the woods on their own as a von Trier-style, comic test of their relationship. Green Acres before there was a Green Acres. But soon after his arrival, the rest of the farming community rolls through in bit parts, creating a rich, rounded story full of marital conflict and honest to God tragedy.
By any means, this isn’t the greatest film ever made. It’s a slightly-above-average comedy that’s great for wasting a rainy afternoon with. It’s to be watched for the brilliant physical comedy of the beautiful Claudette Colbert (who could give her contemporary Lucille Ball an awkward run for her money), the acting-through-the-smile of Fred MacMurray and the ridiculousness of the community that forms around them.
There are a few times the pace seems to go nowhere, and a few comic set ups that could have been cut, but over all it’s a clever journey to the countryside. A film that attempts to blend a little drama into its comedy. An underrated gem that has a terrible, terrible name.