Title: The Egg and I
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Chester Erskine
Writers: Chester Erskine, Fred F. Finklehoffe
based on the novel by Betty MacDonald
Music: Frank Skinner
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner
Editor: Russell F. Schoengarth
Samuel S. Hinds
Isabel O’ Madigan
One of the problems with benign Golden Age Hollywood offerings is that sometimes their notions of gender politics are (considerably) pretty retrogressive, which inexorably takes the shine off its crowd-pleasing charm in this day and age. Chester Erskine’s THE EGG AND I, adapted from author Betty MacDonald’s titular novel, a memoir of her own life experience as a young wife on a chicken farm, stars Colbert as Betty herself and MacMurray as her nondescript hubby Bob, who, in the beginning, casually throws a bombshell to Betty that he has quitted his job in the city and buys a farm to restart their life in the countryside by raising chickens, which smacks of a repugnant whiff of male chauvinism, a wife doesn’t need to be apprised on the said matter, it is a decision solely to be made by the breadwinner. Incredibly biddable, albeit her visible misgivings, Betty is game enough to go along with Bob’s proposition, and next time we see them, they are en route to their new domicile with their livestock in a banger, chug chug!
While Bob sees their new life through rose-colored glasses, Betty is wrong-footed by a house in utter disrepair and quotidian domestic chores, not to mention starting their business from the scratch, the familiar orbit of a maladjusted urban wife disoriented by displacement then slowly finding her feet in a rural but overall congenial environment is pleasant enough, especially when the pair befriends their neighbor, Ma and Pa Kettle (Main and Kilbride), typified by their hail-fellow-well-met deportment and fecundity with a brood of a dozen, Ma can never tell from who to who. Indeed, Main’s hearty vim and vigor earns her an Oscar nomination and the movie’s success spawns their own MA AND PA KETTLE franchise (nine features in toto) for Universal.
Through a checkered journey loaded not only with sincere laughter, neighborly affinity and deep-felt affection, but calamity as well (Frank Skinner’s delectable score is a bonanza), THE EGG AND I sets up the deal breaker through a monkey wrench in the works, Harriet Putnam (Allbritton), an unmarried, luscious owner of a nearby modern chicken farm, who inexplicably takes a shine to Bob and constantly pales Betty into insignificance or humiliation (their first acquaintance is all about jostling for taming a pig named Cleopatra). But ultimately, unlike author Betty’s real life situation, who did divorce her first husband and remarried, this feel-good flick opts for a banal merry ending and again, inadvertently or not, makes Bob look superiorly good while Betty has to be answerable for everything in a haste fashion.
Definitely on the wrong side of the age of a young wife, a petite Colbert (44 years old at then, and 5 years senior than MacMurray) cogently but not self-consciously radiates a down-home warmth and alacrity, helped by the full treatment of soft focus, gentle lighting, wardrobe and cosmetic fine-tuning, plus silver-screen’s natural inclination of taking a few years off its glamorized subjects, the whole effect is tantamount to that of actor Samuel L. Jackson, who is digitally de-aged to play a character nearly half of his real age in CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019), and somehow, Colbert’s effort is more nuanced and embellishes the story’s triteness with a distinct allure of gumption and bonhomie, which sheds a light on why those oldies are worth visiting, time and again.
referential entry: Jack Conway’s BOOM TOWN (1940, 7.0/10).