Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Warner Archive Wednesday - The Mating Game (1959)

If you love '90s British television as much as I do, you may be familiar with the show The Darling Buds of May (1991). Based on a novel by the same name, the TV series follows the eccentric and fun loving Larkin family circa 1950s England. The Larkins live in idyllic Kent and are such loveable and hospitable free spirits you can't help but want to move in to their home.

Novelist H.E. Bates wrote 5 books about the Larkin family with the first one, The Darling Buds of May, being published in 1958. The book must have been an instant success as it was picked up and adapted into a movie just the following year. The Mating Game (1959) moves the Larkin family from Kent to Maryland in the good ole USA.

The Larkin family is a quirky bunch.  Pop Larkin (Paul Douglas) and Ma Larkin (Una Merkel) run a successful farm, that's been in the family for over 150 years, and have raised a wild but productive bunch of kids including their eldest daughter, the headstrong Mariette (Debbie Reynolds). Pop is well-loved by the community because he is always willing to help out others with supplies or services when they are in need. The Larkins keep no bank account, pay no taxes and don't believe in saving money. As long as they sleep good and eat good, they are happy. Not everyone in the community loves the Larkin family though. Their wealthy neighbor is tired of their quirky antics and wants revenge. He finds their one weak spot, their history of tax evasion, and decides to sic the IRS on them.

 Life is just Perfick


The real reason why the uppity neighbors don't like the Larkin family is more thoroughly and candidly explored in the British TV series. Pop and Ma Larkin have been together for many years but have never married. Their relationship is open and Pop is free to court other ladies. Their eldest Mariette sleeps around with some of the local boys, has a pregnancy scare and doesn't know who the father might be. On top of that, one of their other daughters Primrose lusts after the the town's new Vicar (in Maryland I guess he would just be a pastor). I know what you are thinking, this is a bit scandalous for the 1950s. Well the characters in the community thought so too. Although they don't send a tax man over to investigate, he comes on his own. While The Mating Game tries to add a bit of that scandal into the movie, they don't go all the way for obvious reasons.

With the American 1959 adaptation, we just have to assume the neighbor is a jerk and leave it at that. It's assumed (but never said) that Pop and Ma Larkin are married and Mariette only goes so far as to tease the neighborhood boys and ride horses with them. And Primrose just doesn't exist at all.

Back to the story. The IRS sees that Pop Larkin has never paid income tax and they send Lorenzo "Charley" Charlton (Tony Randall) out to investigate. Charley has the best intentions to carry out his duty however he begins to succumb to Mariette's charms, Pop's liquor and the Larkin's genuine brand of hospitality.

A drunk Charley (Tony Randall) in only his shirt, socks and underwear dancing around the Larkin home.

The Mating Game is a fun movie. I was happy when Warner Archive released it on DVD-R because I had been wanting to watch this film for a long time and TCM's showings always happened to elude me. However, I am such a huge fan of The Darling Buds of May that this little American adaptation just doesn't compare. I love Una Merkel and Paul Douglas. In fact I love them so much, they could be in any movie and I would like it simply because of their presence. However, the Pop and Ma Larkin of the British TV show are so much more loveable. Whenever I watch The Darling Buds of May, I want to move in with the Larkin family. With the American Larkin Family, I was just happy for a visit but didn't want to stay any longer.

The plus side to this movie is that Debbie Reynolds is a much better fit to play the spunky Mariette than Catherine Zeta-Jones and a young Tony Randall is a lot more fun to watch than Philip Franks of the British version.

Update September 2012: Having read H. E. Bates' novel, I have changed my mind. Catherine Zeta-Jones's role was much more representative of the character Mariette than Debbie Reynolds. I don't know what possessed me to write the above! In fact, after reading the novel (which was absolutely charming by the way), I know see how terrible the Hollywood version is compared to the original story.

Tony Randall is confused by Debbie Reynold's mullet.

Trivia bit: This was Paul Douglas' last film. Billy Wilder sought him out to play the part of Jeff Sheldrake in The Apartment (1960) but Douglas died of a heart attack before filming. The role eventually went to Fred MacMurray.

Note: I have not read the 5 H.E. Bates novels so I can only compare the TV series to the movie and not the books to either.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Movies selected are rented from Classicflix or purchased from Warner Archive, Classicflix or TCM. This series is not sponsored by Warner Archive.


  1. Wow, I had no *idea* of the relationship between THE MATING GAME and THE DARLING BUDS OF MAY!! I've got both and need to dig into them ASAP. Loved learning this! The movie looks like fun. :)


    Best wishes,

    1. Laura - I really want to hear what you think of The Mating Game once you get your new VCR player for your VHS copy. So are you a fan of The Darling Buds of May?

  2. Add me to the list of DARLING BUDS OF MAY fans that had NO idea that there had ever been an American adaptation. This looks pretty interesting, with that cast -- though as a card-carrying male I'll have to respectfully disagree with you, Raquelle, about Debbie Reynolds' suitability as Mariette over the ravishingly gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones from the TV series (she's just luminous in that show). I can see how Tony Randall would be a step up, though.

    This movie must come across as a littley tame considering how much controversial-for-the-time material they had to keep out of the screenplay. Still, I really need to see this someday. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention!

    1. Hey Jeff! Thanks for stopping by. While I do agree that Catherine Zeta-Jones was absolutely ravishingly gorgeous, I don't think she's right for the part. She doesn't quite fit the family, the relationship between her and Charley doesn't really make sense because she seems way out of his league and she's not really spunky and feisty. However, she was a pleasure to watch so I wouldn't have wanted anyone else in the role.

      I hope you'll watch The Mating Game and let me know what you think of it!


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