Tuesday, September 25, 2012
HER HUSBAND'S AFFAIRS (1947)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*
This mostly forgotten sci-fi comedy, penned by Charles Lederer and Ben Hecht, anticipates some of the devices the two writers would use on the justly more famous MONKEY BUSINESS (1952). But though AFFAIRS is just a routine comedy programmer teaming marquee stars Lucille Ball and Franchot Tone, it's not without some significant mythic/symbolic content.
Though the title is calculated to sound racy, the "affairs" of the title refers to the separation of "the husband's business" within the sphere of a marriage as separate from "the wife's business." The film opens by depicting young marrieds Margaret (Ball) and William (Tone). William has a good job with an ad agency, but he and Margaret both lust after the attractions of Easy Street. To this end William makes minor investments in the scientific work of European emigre Emil Glinka, though as yet none of the professor's inventions have made money.
This changes when Glinka reveals a rather macabre sounding project: a chemical that will allow dead people to be changed into "statues of glass." Neither William nor anyone else thinks that this is either a good or profitable idea, but William does like the effects of a by-product of Glinka's process: a chemical cream that works as a depilatory, allowing men to cream off their beards without the effort of shaving.
It's hard to conceive that even in the 1940s any company would have invested in a new chemical product without extensive test-trials, but for comedy's sake Hecht and Lederer posit that William's company repeatedly markets products without such tests. Thus the first complication ensues when men who use the cream find their beards growing back at ridiculous rates. Margaret then gives William the idea to market the chemical as a hair-growing tonic, and once again, customers have weird reactions, particularly a man who gets a glassy sheen on his bald skull instead of hair. Yet another application gives William the idea to market the goop as a flower-preservative, and so on.
The thing that gives this programmer a little extra moxie is that many of these comic adventures spawn an added conflict whenever Margaret attempts, in her well-meaning way, to come to her overconfident husband's aid. Margaret isn't especially smarter than her husband, but whenever she succeeds in helping him, he resents the help to the depths of his 20th-century patriarchal soul. Though the film ends with Margaret apparently choosing to obey William's credo that she should stay out of his "business," even the most hidebound audience-member would have to acknowledge that Margaret comes up with some good ideas.
The spirited quarrels between Margaret and William will certainly remind many people of similar quarrels in the 1951-57 teleseries I LOVE LUCY. However, Margaret is not nearly as much of a scatterbrain as the Lucy character, and she's not constantly trying to show off her entertainment-abilities. Rather, she's merely trying to be a good wife in all respects, and there's some choice irony in the fact that William is so insecure that he regards this as a threat.