And So They Were Married (1936)

Is there a romantic comedy history expert out there who can help me with context here? And So They Were Married is an early example (or perhaps the originator) of the "kids manipulating parents" sub-genre that would eventually turn into things like The Parent Trap and its ilk. I'd be curious to know whether it actually is the first, or if it was following on the heels of similar productions. Mainly, I'm curious because... well...

This movie rules.

I'll get to a few of the usual "well, that aged poorly" caveats in a moment, but strictly as a comedy, this is easily the funniest movie of the '30s we've done to date and possibly one of the funniest Christmas movies of all time. The jokes hold up more than eighty years later, which is incredible in and of itself.

I should note I'm bucketing this as a "romantic comedy" with trepidation. It's really more of an over-the-top farce about kids acting recklessly with the adults' relationship serving as a catalyst. The line between rom-com and comedy that has a romance is a blurry one, and it's hard to determine which side this lands on. It's got enough of the usual tropes to qualify, but those aren't really the aspects that make it memorable or effective.

Okay, before I compliment this thing further, let's tackle those caveats. I can't think of a single movie from this era that doesn't have some aspect that makes me wince, and this is no exception. The most obvious is a throwaway line late in the picture about "colored boys." It's the only example of racism I caught in the movie, but that's in part because the cast is entirely white, which is obviously an issue in and of itself.

The other warning I have connects to the premise, and I'm actually a little torn on whether it's an issue at all. The movie is largely built around children raised in single-parent homes, and it lightly embraces some gender norms as a result. But at the same time, the movie seems to subvert as many norms as it upholds; arguably more. The dynamics here are pretty complicated, but it's worth noting this may come off differently to kids raised in single-parent or same-sex households. Think of this more as a potential warning to anyone sensitive about these topics than an outright criticism. 

All that said, I want to stress that this feels somewhat progressive in several respects. The movie's leads are intellectually equal - if anything, I think the woman comes off a bit better in that respect. She's not written as overly emotional or irrational - she's a competent woman raising a kid by herself after a divorce. And I'll add that divorce isn't treated as some sort of scandalous secret or tragic backstory: it's just the reason she's single. I notice of the three credited writers, one is definitely a woman (Doris Anderson), and another is ambiguous (I can't find any information about A. Laurie Brazee's gender whatsoever). It's probably not a coincidence that the movie's gender politics are unusually intelligent.

And to add a caveat to the caveat about gender norms, the aspects it upholds are ultimately fairly surface-level. The kids pick up mannerisms from their parents, but at heart every child in this movie is a monstrous little brat. This is most obvious around a minor character, a boy raised by a mother, who dresses and speaks with exaggerated manners but is just as much an inhuman brute as the main girl and boy.

The plot is pretty straightforward: two single parents travel to a ski resort with their kids to celebrate Christmas. In both cases, the kid distrusts everyone of the opposite gender and are disgusted by the idea of their parent ever remarrying. Despite initially disliking each other (the kids aren't the only ones who get to behave badly in this movie), the adults fall in love, and the kids - who hate each other - conspire to break them up. Their plans go off the rails for a while, seeding destruction and chaos, but only pushing their parents - who misinterpret the behavior as meaning the kids are getting along - closer together.

Eventually things get pushed to the point the male adult turns to corporal punishment, spanking a child, which results in an argument about parenting that causes a rift. The two break up and each travel back to L.A. with their kids, who discover their parents are depressed and unavailable. The kids then get back in touch and decide to run away together to force their parents back together. This escalates, as well, when a case of mistaken identity gets the parents arrested and put in jail on New Year's Eve for kidnapping. Obviously, everything works out in the end (it's right there in the title), but setting the reconciliation in jail is just wonderful.

It's really the details that make this work. The movie's willing to let the kids be monsters and mine the schism between their parents' impressions of them and reality for laughs. I'm refraining from examples, because I don't want to spoil anything: simply put, this is a great comedy with a mischievous sense of humor. It delights in allowing the kids the freedom to be truly horrible and up the stakes at every turn. It's whimsical, darkly funny, and extremely clever throughout.

I should note the movie features some old-fashioned editing. I can't imagine anyone begrudging this for speeding up footage of cars or the like, but it's pretty obvious it was made in the '30s. Again, I don't remotely consider this a problem, but if those kinds of artifacts impact your experience, you'll want to brace yourself.

I'm mainly baffled by the fact history seems to have completely swallowed this gem up. Wikipedia only has a few sentences about it, and it doesn't have a single review listed on Rotten Tomatoes: this is one of the funniest movies I've encountered from this era, and it's been almost entirely forgotten.

You should absolutely read that as a recommendation. The good news is it's easy enough to find cheap or even free. And at an hour fifteen minutes, it's not even a huge time commitment. This is one of the movies worth tracking down both as a time capsule for the era it was made and - more importantly - just for the fun of watching. I was really pleasantly surprised by this: movies this old rarely hold up anywhere near this well.