Friday, January 11, 2013

I Do and I Don't by Jeanine Basinger

I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies
by Jeanine Basinger
Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)
On Sale: January 29, 2013

Find the book on:
Barnes and Noble

“... the traditional role for both the marriage movie and the divorce movie is to tell the audience to keep on going. ‘I do, and I don’t, but I do.’ – that’s the story of the American marriage movie.” – Jeanine Basinger

When you think about love in the movies, the first thing that might come to mind is courtship. The game in which two people fall madly in love and want to be together but something gets in their way. The story of this lovestruck couple ends with a happily ever after or in tears. Marriage is just as important a theme as courtship in classic film but is often overlooked. In I Do and I Don’t, film historian Jeanine Basinger takes a close look at those movies that focus on the marriage aspect of a relationship. Her sharp focus on this particular type of movie spans the length of film’s history but primarily rests upon the time period of the 1920s to the 1960s when marriage was more culturally significant. The influence of this is reflected in the various marriage (and divorce) movies that resulted from the era. This book is not intended to be a scholarly text nor is it intended to be anything other than a general study of marriage movies in the film industry.

Basinger writes in her Author's Note:

"...this book is an overview of how commercial movies told the story of marriage, and how they used it to draw audiences into the theater. The book is descriptive, historical and personally speculative.It's about what the average person saw and heard at the movie theater. Nothing more and nothing less."

So what is a marriage movie exactly? The key here is to look at films which deal with marriage. Either the problem in the marriage is the crisis of the plot or the story happens to a married couple. Basinger identfies 7 different types of problems in marriage movies:

1) Money
2) Infidelity/Adultery
3) In-Laws and Children
4) Incompatibility
5) Class
6) Addiction
7) Murder

In the beginning of the book, Basinger discusses marriage in the movie at length, its significance, the difficulty filmmakers had using it as a plot device and the audience desire to see the “I do” or “I don’t but I do” situation played out. Audiences went to the movies for escape but also wanted to be able to relate to the characters and the difficulties they were experiencing. Marriage was a good plot device to achieve just that whether it was in a good comedy or drama.

As the book progresses, Basinger goes on to look at the 7 different types of marriage movies closely. She uses many examples and explains how each demonstrate that particular marriage problem in its own way. Spoilers are a necessary evil in these book as it is very important to look at the entire workings of a plot to extrapolate the meaning as well as to exemplify the role of marriage in the movie. If you are a film buff who has an extensive movie viewing history or you don't care as much about spoilers and are interested in the film industry, then you will not have any problems reading this book. I found myself skipping a few of the movies discussed primarily because the first couple sentences captured my interest and I didn’t want to ruin the movie with spoilers. I wrote those films down to watch them later. My advanced readers copy did not have an index but I am assuming the final book does which will help in going back to particular films in the future.

The book has a lot of footnotes. This disrupts the reading quite a bit, as footnotes normally do, and I think with some clever editing a lot of the footnotes could have been worked into the main text. There are numerous photographs included with fun explanatory captions. Where photos appear, they are paired in twos and threes and for the most part relate to one another. They often compare two or three different movies, show different situations in a story (for example: before and after) or show different themes. I think these work incredibly well and I was happy to see them.

The last part of the book focuses on how TV took over the marriage story as it worked beautifully for the TV format. It also looks at modern cinema and it’s current trouble with the marriage story. I very much enjoyed how Basinger looked at Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s on screen and off screen marriage as a sort of parallel story to the history of marriage in TV and film.

I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies is a well organized and enlightening book; a must-read for any film buff who wants to enhance their knowledge of film history.

Here are some notable films that were discussed in the book:

Woman of the Year (1942)
Cass Timerlane (1947)
Two for the Road (1967)
The Thin Man (1934)
Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
We're Not Married (1952)
They Died With Their Books On (1941)
Blondie serials
Ma & Pa Kettle serials
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
Brief Encounter (1945)
The Facts of Life (1960)
No Room for the Groom (1952)
The various adaptations of The Painted Veil
The Painted Veil (1934)
The Seventh Sin (1957)
The Painted Veil (2006)

Jeanine Basinger is the author of books about classic film including The Star Machine (highly recommended!) and Silent Stars.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced reader’s copy from Alfred A. Knopf (Random House). It had black and white interior with no index in the back.


  1. I really enjoyed your take, Raquel! Like you I hope (and assume) the final copy will have an index, which is essential for revisiting writeups on movies later on.

    One of the films she covers I especially recommend is THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU with Dennis Morgan and Eleanor Parker. I remember you've said nice things about Morgan in the past so if you've not seen it yet, hope you can in the future. Hopefully it wil be out from Warner Archive before too long!

    I'm making good progress on reading my copy and hope to have a review posted later in the month, around the time of the publication date.

    Best wishes,

  2. I really enjoyed reading The Star Machine by the same author, so chances are, I'll like this one too! Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention :D

  3. This sounds interesting. One of the recurring themes in my blog, especially when it comes to classic movies, is the whole "love and marriage" game. People pursue that perfect someone endlessly, but once they get them, they're still not quite satisfied, it seems. I will look for this one.


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