Friday, June 15, 2012

Weddings in Film ~ Traditions ~ You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

My Weddings in Film series explores the different stages of getting married as seen through classic movies. The third film, You Were Never Lovelier (1942), takes a look at wedding traditions.

You've found the person you want to marry and you've decided between a big or small wedding. Now it's time to talk about wedding traditions. Which ones to honor and which ones to skip. Every country, every religion, every family has their own traditions when it comes to the big day. Today people are a lot more creative with weddings, eschewing convention and going for ceremonies and receptions that better reflect the couple's unique personalities. However, for many, weddings are a rite of passage that inherently come with a set of traditions that have to be abided by.

For example, let's take the Acuña family from You Were Never Lovelier (1942). Unlike the Hurley family from The Catered Affair (1956), the Acuña family, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, can afford a big wedding. Their oldest daughter, Julia, is getting married and in the tradition of the Acuña family, all four daughters must be married in birth order. This puts the two youngest sisters, Cecy (Leslie Brooks) and Lita (Adele Mara), in a bit of a quandary. They both have beaus ready for the altar but the second oldest daughter, Maria (Rita Hayworth), has no prospects and is not interested in finding one either.

"He says it's family tradition that the girls be disposed of: one, two, three, four."

Their father, Eduardo Acuña (Adolphe Menjou), sees the plight of his three unmarried daughters and plans to get the second eldest, Maria, in the marrying mood. So the father starts writing fake secret admirer letters and sends them with orchids to his daughter every day at 5 pm. He hopes this will inspire Maria to want a beau. Like in any good comedy, his plan gets thrown off course by something, or in this case someone, unexpected. Dancer Bob Davis (Fred Astaire) wants a job at Mr. Acuña's night club. However, Mr. Acuña wants nothing to do with him and figures he is out of the picture until one day Maria mistakes Bob for her secret admirer. And then, as I like to say, things get complicated.

The dilemma that is the crux of the story is an example of a wedding tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. This sort of birth order arrangement is not as common as it used to be, and in the Western world it's increasingly rare. Today, most people get married when they want, regardless of whether their older siblings have already married.

When the eldest daughter, Julia, gets married, we see various other traditions come in to play. The bride has a trousseau which traditionally a chest of accessories, jewelry, lingerie, clothing and/or other items that is given to the bride by her parents. It can also include the bride's wedding dress. From one of the very first scenes, we learn that Mr. Acuña is a very demanding man. He personally picks out pieces for his daughter's trousseau because he didn't like the set originally picked out for his daughter.

"First time I ever heard of a father selecting a trousseau." - Juan Castro

Right before the wedding, sisters Cecy, Lita and Maria present Julia with something old (a small bible), something new (a brand new shiny coin), something borrowed (their mom's handkerchief) and something blue (a blue garter).

"And here's something blue Julia. The bridegroom is supposed to sleep on it or something." - Maria

The "Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue" tradition is still regularly practiced today.

There is nothing more traditional about weddings than the wedding gown. The white wedding dress, in various shades of white, ivory, eggshell, etc., is still the most common. Brides today may chose to wear another color or add color to their white dress. Julia wears a dress her father picked out for her. During most of the 20th century, wedding dresses often had long sleeves. These days strapless gowns seem to be the norm (a few gals on Twitter and I talk about how we loathe this new trend). Above you see Julia wears a headpiece and veil. This was very common then too whereas nowadays we see smaller veils or no veils and lots and lots of tiaras.

Now let's talk about the bridesmaids. In this film, Julia's three sisters are her bridesmaids with the second oldest Maria as her maid of honor. See those bouquets? Back in the day, bouquets were enormous. As the decades passed they got smaller and smaller and more uniform in shape. Today bouquets are usually a tightly bunched array of flowers wrapped together with ribbon. But back then a bouquet was practically it's own centerpiece. It was very common to see bouquets adorned with silk ribbons that hung beneath the flowers. Sometimes the ribbons would have ornaments themselves.

When it comes to the wedding procession, there are lots of traditions: a young boy as ring bearer, a young girl as the flower girl, bridesmaids and groomsmen and the bride being walked down the aisle by her father. Above you see there are no groomsmen, ring bearers or flower girls but all the other members of a bridal party are there. It's interesting to note that it's not customary in South American countries (including Argentina where this story takes place) to have a bridal party at all. 

In the film, the wedding is a traditional Latin Mass ceremony in a Catholic church. It was pretty standard to have a church wedding with a reception elsewhere; usually at the parent's home or in this case at Mr.  Acuña's night club. Today, some folks still do the church wedding but others opt for ceremonies in other locations or decide to have the ceremony and reception at the same place.

Here Julia and her groom exchange rings which is still one of the most practiced wedding customs out there. In Jewish ceremonies, the bride and groom stand under a Huppah: a wedding canopy and after the ceremony ends there is a traditional breaking of the glass. In some Latin countries, there is an exchange of a bag of coins. Some couples light candles or pour two different colors of sand together into one jar. Other couples release doves or butterflies.

My favorite wedding tradition is the first kiss as husband and wife. Everyone erupts into applause and it's just a very sweet moment. Also it means the ceremony is over and it's time to...

eat, drink and be merry!

Who is going to catch the enormous bouquet?

The wedding in You Were Never Lovelier (1942) is very representative of a traditional big wedding. In fact, you could even call it "old-fashioned"...


  1. What a fun way to combine the movie and a wedding post, and I love the photos you included! So very glad you enjoyed one of my longtime favorites. :) Thanks for letting me know!

    Best wishes,

  2. Gorgeous film stills (and that Rita was such a head turner!! Wow). I'm so not a fan of the strapless dress trend either. Ick.

  3. I have never seen this movie, but that looks like a wedding that could be a blast. Great pictures, and I think Rita Hayworth is just about as beautiful as they come.

  4. Awesome in-depth writeup. I like your touch into this movie as it typifies an American-wedding. Having the pleasure to know some American and traditional Indian brides, I compare this film to weddings of my friends, and Monsoon Wedding. I wonder if films like this are part of a larger phenomenon like Bridezillas, but classics can stand well on their own.


  5. Not sure how many couples will have a story quite like how Fred and Rita got together in this film. Adolphe Menjou gets some great lines as Rita's dad.


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