The Affairs of Martha . . .

. . . Is the title of a delightful 1942 movie that without being a Christmas movie, nevertheless brought me great joy this Christmas season, and provided a wonderful escape from the insanity and inanity emanating from Washington, as well as a respite from that irritating Reese’s peanut butter cup announcer who’s not sorry but should be.

(BTW, were you thinking the title of this post meant something else?)

I saw The Affairs of Martha listed on TCM’s schedule, and DVR’ed it for two reasons. One, a woman named Martha is the title character, a fact which piqued my curiosity. As my wife will point out with understandable irritation, 99% of all cinematic Marthas are spinster aunts with about six lines of dialogue. So, a main character named Martha was unusual in and of itself. Two, one of the stars listed was Marjorie Main, probably best known for her recurring role as Ma Kettle in the Ma and Pa Kettle movie series, and one of my favorite comediennes.

I didn’t expect much—indeed, I’d never heard of this movie before—but I found myself laughing out loud throughout this 68 minute film.

Title character, Martha is a maid to the wealthy Sommerfield Family in Rock Bay, Long Island. Marjorie Main, that is Mrs. McKessic in the movie, is also a maid in the Sommerfield home. All their neighbors are well-off and all, of course, have maids. It comes to light however, that one of the maids has written a book, and every family is concerned that it is their maid who will be exposing family secrets. Every family except the Sommerfields, that is, but naturally it is Martha who has indeed written the book.

The plot was fun, even plausible, and the dialogue was witty. The actors in this little film (made on a budget of $240,000) gave full dimension to their characters, making them most memorable even if the film itself has been forgotten. Marsha Hunt, who appeared in everything from Pride and Prejudice (1940) to Johnny Got His Gun (1971), played Martha. Spring Byington, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in You Can’t Take It With You (1938), played Mrs. Sommerfield. Byington was in a host of movies, then transitioned to television with a recurring role in the early ‘60s Western, Laramie.

The cast also included Richard Carlson (The Creature From the Black Lagoon among many other films), Sara Haden (best known as Andy Hardy’s Aunt Milly), Barry Nelson (Johnny Eager and other films), Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West), Virginia Weidler, a child actor from that period who played the younger sister in The Philadelphia Story, and a host of other actors who will make you say, “Hey! I”ve seen that guy in a bunch of things!”

If you need a respite from Christmas stress or political stress; or if you’re stress-free, but simply enjoy good movies, I highly recommend The Affairs of Martha. The characters are pleasant, the humor is gentle, and in the end, the right guy gets the girl. I didn’t intend to write another movie review after posting one in my last entry, but I was inspired to because after watching this film, I felt refreshed. Maybe, cleansed is an even better word. Immersing myself in The Affairs of Martha was like taking a hot bath: I still had to step back into the cold world, but at least I felt better for the experience.

(I see the DVD is available from a couple of sources for $10.00 or so. The full-length movie is not available on Youtube, but I did find a clip from the film, which appears below. Of course, I still have it in the DVR player, so bring some snacks and watch it at my house. I’ll be happy to watch it again.)

About Austin Gisriel

You know the guy that records a baseball game from the West Coast in July and doesn't watch it until January just to see baseball in the winter? That's me. I'm a writer always in search of a good story, baseball or otherwise.
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