Meal time and clean up had yielded to quiet time; company had headed home and my boys were off into the night to visit friends nearby.
Sparks fly between these two over an electric train and a lost job, and decisions about whether or not to marry are clearly pitting love against pragmatism.
This is exactly the sort of movie that many grew up on – certainly my mother’s generation, sitting in the darkened playhouse and watching its theatrical release. And, thanks to television, I suppose my generation grew up on it as well, at least in part.
Its message? Relationships (and life goals) are reduced to Young Woman Seeking Job as Wife and Mother and, Man Seeking Good Homemaker.
If the woman has a child (as in this story), then she is likely a widow – the honorable reason for the end of marriage. This is one more reminder of the strange legacy of mid-century marital mores we still bear, some six decades later.
In this pleasant but formulaic plot, Leigh is the mother of a 6-year old boy who wants an electric train. She is courted by a well established attorney (Wendell Corey), but she doesn’t love him. He’s a nice guy, but along comes another nice guy – Mitchum – the one with big muscles as well as a big heart, who barely knows her, and who quickly proposes as well.
Romance over Pragmatism?
Cutting to the chase, Leigh falls for the Mitchum character in a matter of days. (He can’t afford the train but purchases it for her son, all the same.) Naturally, after a few plot twists, she dumps New York, dumps the stable relationship, and Widow + Child take off with Mitchum to California (by train) for a presumably happy future.
Stranger things have happened of course. But when I realize that this sort of fantasy is what nourished my parents’ generation (especially the women?), and that my generation was raised on remnants of these beliefs, it’s no wonder we were confused about love, marriage, and women’s roles.
Superwoman and Saran Wrap
Of course, our version in the 70s appeared in the Superwoman variant: we should marry, keep house, greet our husbands dressed in Saran Wrap, pop out babies and mother them fiercely, and pursue a challenging career. Could we agree that it’s a wonder that any of us survived intact, or with intact marriages, living under the banners and burdens of “having it all?”
I’m not sure that I can draw conclusions or find wisdom in any of this, but I remain struck by the innocence (and unreality) of this theoretically lighthearted fare which, one might say, is another version of the famous Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr classic, An Affair to Remember.
Still, it’s one thing to abandon everything on a romantic whim, but to entrust your child’s future to it?
Hollywood Relationships, Real Relationships
Do you know what you really want in a relationship? Is four days, an electric train, and love at first sight enough to build a marriage?
I know, I know. It’s Hollywood. And Hollywood of a different era at that. But it explains a great deal – to me, at least. It tells me much about my own parents’ marriage and the brief explanation from my mother as to why she married my father (in 1951), and the extent to which their sort of courtship was common.
It also tells me why she knew within a year’s time (or so) that they were terribly mismatched, though they loved each other. We may like to believe that love solves everything, but in marriage?
Not in my experience. A workable marriage takes common values not to mention a huge dose of luck, among other things.
Changing Times, or Not
I wonder if the fantasy that everything will sort itself out was genuinely more prevalent in the post-war boom that was the 1950s, stretching into the 60s and early 70s. Some relied on the practical aspects of a legal union, anticipating that love was secondary or would come along eventually. Others threw themselves into their passion and damn the rest.
But now? Aren’t we still living by the same tug-of-war when it comes to relationships – practicality versus romantic hopefulness – rather than recognizing the need for a far more textured and complex reality?
*Image courtesy Flickr, Minnesota Historical Society under Creative Commons 2.0