Skip to main content

Film Friday: "It Started With a Kiss" (1959)

To celebrate Debbie Reynolds' 84th birthday, which happens to be today, this week on "Film Friday" I bring you one of my favorite of her films.

Original release poster
Directed by George Marshall, It Started With a Kiss (1959) tells the story of Joe Fitzpatrick (Glenn Ford) and Maggie Putnam (Debbie Reynolds), an Air Force sergeant and a dancer who meet at a charity ball, where he purchases a raffle ticket from her for a custom-built luxury car. After a two-day courtship, Joe marries Maggie and then travels to Spain to join his company. Maggie meets him there a month later, with the news that he has won the raffle, making them the proud owners of a 1955 Lincoln Futura. Although she is happy to see Joe, Maggie soon questions that sudden commitment to one another. Concerned that she might get pregnant before she can determine if they are suitably matched, Maggie declares they must have a trial marriage without sex for thirty days.

The following day, the car arrives at the port of Cadiz. As they drive back to Madrid, Joe and Maggie are spotted by Marquesa Marian de la Rey (Eva Gabor) and handsome matador Antonio Soriano (Gustavo Rojo). The American ambassador also notices the car and sends his aid, McVey (Carleton Young), to tell General Tim O'Connell (Fred Clark) that "a flagrant, ostentatious display of American wealth is very poor propaganda." O'Connell instructs Joe to send the car back to the United States, but he refuses, claiming that it would jeopardize his marriage. Later, Joe and Maggie receive an invitation to a party hosted by Marian and a bullfight, most likely due to the car. Taken with both Maggie and the car, Antonio invites the Fitzpatricks to his country estate the next day. The morning of their trip to the country, Joe learns that he owes several thousands of dollars in taxes on the car. Joe realizes he can resolve the monetary problem by selling Antonio the car, which upsets Maggie. After she gets drunk during a tour of Antonio's winery, Joe accuses Maggie of being selfish and leaves in disgust, moving in Marian's villa. A series of crazy misunderstandings ensues, but in the end it becomes clear to Maggie that she truly loves Joe and the two reconcile.

Maggie Putnam: Things are more important than people. You see, you can trust things, whatever they are — furs, clothes, jewelry, groceries, houses. Whatever they are, they don't change. They don't wake up in the morning and say, "Yesterday I was a shoe, but today I'm going to be a bicycle," like people do.

After the Motion Picture Production Code was fully enforced in 1934, Hollywood was required to obey a series of "general principles" which prohibited a film from "lowering the moral standards of those who see it." The Code sought not only to determine what could be portrayed on screen, but also to promote traditional values, the so-called "correct standards of life." Consequently, issues such as miscegenation, the use of drugs, adultery, prostitution and sexual relations were strictly forbidden. In the 1950s, however, the Breen office's powers in Hollywood began to weaken due to the combined impact of television, influence from foreign films, bold directors pushing the boundaries and intervention from the Supreme Court. Areas of the Code were rewritten to accept subjects that had been considered taboo since the 1930s and increasingly explicit films soon began to appear, including The Moon Is Blue (1953), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959), all directed by Otto Preminger.

Although sex has always been an issue, albeit an implicit one, in the majority of Hollywood romantic comedies, the loosening of the Production Code in the late 1950s and early 1960s contributed to the development of a new type of comedy: the "sex comedy." This term, however, was rarely applied at the time and contemporary critics tended to combined  variety of suggestive adjectives, including "adult" and "risqué," with more generic nouns such as "comedy" and "farce." The sex comedy is characterized by its "full use of the cinematic rhetoric of romance: passionate kisses, soft-focus close-ups, and emotion-enforcing music are entirely typical. However, this rhetoric is not necessarily used sincerely and, more often than not, romance is associated with the artifice of seduction, in opposition to the 'naturalness' of 'true' love. Seduction and romance are revealed to be based upon manipulation and commodification." Among such successful films as Teacher's Pet (1958), Pillow Talk (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961), we find It Started With a Kiss.

Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford
It Started With a Kiss was the first property producer Aaron Rosenberg purchased under his new MGM contract. A former All-American college football player, Rosenberg began his Hollywood career in 1934, as an assistant director at Fox Film Corporation, merged a year later with Twentieth Century Pictures to form 20th Century Fox. He turned to producing in the late 1940s and was responsible for such films as Winchester '73 (1950), The Glenn Miller Story (1953), The Benny Goodman Story (1956) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

Based on a story by Valentine Davies, the director of The Benny Goodman Story, It Started With a Kiss was adapted for the screen by Charles Lederer, who also wrote Mutiny on the Bounty. Beginning his career writing additional dialogue for the Best Picture nominee The Front Page (1931), he soon became a major comedy writer, employing his acerbic wit to such films as His Girl Friday (1940), Love Crazy (1941), I Was a Male War Bride (1949) and Monkey Business (1952). For It Started With a Kiss, Lederer recreated a well-known sequence from RKO's Bringing Up Baby (1938), when Joe must walk in-step tightly behind Maggie in order to hide her torn dress.

Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford
To helm It Started With a Kiss, MGM chose the veteran George Marshall, one of the most versatile and prolific directors in Hollywood, who began his career early in silent era with The Committee on Credentials (1916). His at least 185 directing credits include Destry Rides Again (1939), The Blue Dahlia (1946), My Friend Irma (1949) and Fancy Pants (1950). The two lead roles of Joe Fitzpatrick and Maggie Putnam were assigned to Glenn Ford, a World War II veteran who began his film career in 1939 and achieved widespread recognition with the iconic noir Gilda (1946); and Debbie Reynolds, a former gymnast who began her rise to fame after co-starring with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain (1952).

Ford was going through a rough period in his life when he began working on It Started With a Kiss in late February 1959. His 16-year marriage to dancer Eleanor Powell was collapsing and he looked "dazed and depressed." Fortunately, Marshall, Ford's friend and favorite director, with whom he also worked in The Sheepman (1958) and Advance to the Rear (1964), was able to lessen his dark mood and keep his spirits high during production.  

Debbie Reynolds on the set
For her part, Reynolds was in the midst of a humilliating scandal. She had been married to teen idol Eddie Fisher, her co-star in Bundle of Joy (1956), and the two had been labeled by the fan magazines as "America's sweethearts." Fisher was the best friend of producer Mike Todd, who happened to be married to Reynolds' close friend Elizabeth Taylor. When Todd died in a plane crash in 1958, a grief-stricken Taylor was consoled by Fisher, with whom she soon became involved. As he was still married to Reynolds, the affair caused a major public scandal, topped only three years later when Taylor left Fisher to consort with Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra (1963).

The role of Marquesa Marian de la Rey was given to the Hungarian-born Eva Gabor, who made her film debut in Forced Landing (1941) at Paramount Pictures. Gabor would soon be embroiled in her own romantic scandal. She had become engaged to a New York stockbroker, Richard Brown. Before he got involved with Gabor, Brown had broken off a relationship with a model. Shortly after the film company returned from Spain, the model committed suicide, leaving a note which said she could not go on without Brown. Although Gabor had nothing to do with Brown ending his previous affair, the tabloid headlines called Gabor a "love pirate." Gabor married Brown later that year. They divorced in 1972.

Reynolds and Ford on location in Spain
Although Reynolds would become one of Ford's lifelong friends, they had a bumpy start on location in Spain. On the first day of shooting at a bullring in Madrid, rain caused a delay in the schedule.While awaiting their call to the set, Reynolds and Gabor sat in a trailer chatting to each other. As it began to get dark outside, they realized that cast and crew had left without them. Eventually, they found a car and Gabor offered the driver a piece of jewelry to take them back to the Palace Hotel, where the company was staying. When they arrived, they saw that Marshall, Ford and members of the crew were in the lobby bar. As Reynolds recalled, they were "drinking and smoking and laughing. They'd been there for hours. And Eva and I stood there and bawled them all out, and George, who was loaded, said we had no sense of humor, and then we ran to our rooms in tears. But from then on we were very well taken care of, and it was Glenn who made of that. Always running around checking, 'Did you get the girls? Make sure you get the girls.' And he became the big daddy, making sure nothing like that ever happened to us again."

After three weeks on location in spain, the cast and crew of It Started With a Kiss returned to Hollywood for several weeks of interiors on the MGM lot, where they remained until production wrapped in late April 1959. In the intervening time, Ford and Powell separated and she eventually filed for divorce on May 1, his 43th birthday. Despite Powell's hope to avoid publicity, it was a headline story and for weeks the gossip columnists speculated about the cause of the break-up. Reynolds, too, divorced Fisher in 1959 and he married Taylor shortly afterwards, on May 12.

Lobby card for It Started With a Kiss
It Started With a Kiss opened at the Capitol Theatre in New York on August 19, 1959 to generally positive reviews from critics. A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote that the film "appears to be the proper, weightless but palatable stuff for a summer's day." He also liked the two leads, saying, "Debbie Reynolds, as the romantically beleaguered newlywed, is impishly delightful and is a sight for tired, old eyes in clinging gown, negligee or suit. Glenn Ford, as the over-heated sergeant, is properly enthusiastic and glum, in turn." For their part, Variety called the film "highly amusing" and considered that "Ford and Reynolds make an appealing twosome." They also praised Reynolds' "bright, breezy approach to comedy that puts her just about in a class by herself."

All the publicity surrounding the film's leads contributed to making It Started With a Kiss a box-office hit. Also part of the publicity machine was the promotional tie-in with the car in the film, a $40,000 Lincoln Futura, dubbed "the car of tomorrow." Reynolds and the car made the cover of Life magazine. Reynolds' and Ford's private lives might have been a mess, but their careers had never been better. In fact, Ford ended 1959 as one of the year's top five box-office stars. That year, Ford and Reynolds reunited with Marshall to film The Gazebo (1959), a black comedy based on the play of the same name by Alec Coppel about a married couple who are being blackmailed.


__________________________
SOURCES:
Glenn Ford: A Life by Peter Ford (2011) | Hollywood Romantic Comedy: States of the Union, 1934-1965 by Kathrina Glitre (2006) | TCMDb (Articles) | TCMDb (Notes) | The New York Times review | Variety review

Comments

  1. Great post as usual! I caught this a couple months ago on TCM and enjoyed it. I like "The Gazebo" a little better though. My favorite line from this film was when Ford was reading the letter about the surprise to Harry Morgan and he said "The most wonderful thing that ever happened to two people, outside of an income tax refund, I don't know what else it could be."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was just updating my anniversaries page and noticed that Mon. will be the 50th anniversary of her film "The Singing Nun."

      Delete
    2. Thank you. :)
      I love "The Gazebo." I was thinking of writing about it for Glenn Ford's birthday, actually.

      Delete
    3. Yay! Can't wait to read it ;)

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Golden Couples: Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal

It was April 1948 when director King Vidor spotted 22-year-old Patricia Neal on the Warner Bros. studio lot. A drama graduate from Northwestern University, she had just arrived in Hollywood following a Tony Award-winning performance in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest . Impressed by Patricia's looks, Vidor approached the young actress and asked if she would be interested in doing a screen test for the female lead in his newest film, The Fountainhead (1949). Gary Cooper had already signed as the male protagonist, and the studio was then considering Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck to play his love interest.          Neal liked the script and about two months later, she met with the director for sound and photographic tests. Vidor was enthusiastic about Patricia, but her first audition was a complete disaster. Cooper was apparently watching her from off the set and he was so unimpressed by her performance that he commented, « What's that!? » He tried to con

Golden Couples: Henry Fonda & Barbara Stanwyck

In the mid- and late 1930s, screwball comedy was in vogue and practically every actress in Hollywood tried her hand at it. Barbara Stanwyck never considered herself a naturally funny person or a comedienne per se , but after delivering a heart-wrenching performance in King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937), she decided she needed a « vacation » from emotional dramas. In her search for a role, she stumbled upon a « champagne comedy » called The Mad Miss Manton (1938), originally intended as a Katharine Hepburn vehicle. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as Melsa and Peter in The Mad Miss Manton .   Directed by Leigh Jason from a script by Philip G. Epstein, The Mad Miss Manton begins when vivacious Park Avenue socialite Melsa Manton finds a corpse while walking her dogs in the early hours of the morning. She calls the police, but they dismiss the incident — not only because Melsa is a notorious prankster, but also because the body disappears in the meantime. Sarcastic newspaper editor

Films I Saw in 2020

For the past four years, I have shared with you a list of all the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 and 2019 , so I thought I would continue the «tradition» and do it again in 2020. This list includes both classic and «modern» films, which make up a total of 161 titles. About three or four of these were re-watches, but I decided to include them anyway. Let me know how many from these you have seen. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favorites. Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire and Joe Keaton The Crowd (1928) | Starring James Murray, Eleanor Boardman and Bert Roach Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) | Starring Henry Fonda, Alice Brady and Marjorie Weaver Brief Encounter (1945) | Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard and Stanley Holloway The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) | Starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman The Girl He Left Behind (1956) | Starring Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood Gidget (1959) | Starring Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson an

Wings of Change: The Story of the First Ever Best Picture Winner

Wings was the first ever film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since then, it has become one of the most influential war dramas, noted for its technical realism and spectacular air-combat sequences. This is the story of how it came to be made.   A man and his story The concept for Wings originated from a writer trying to sell one of his stories. In September 1924, Byron Morgan approached Jesse L. Lasky, vice-president of Famous Players-Lasky, a component of Paramount Pictures, proposing that the studio do an aviation film. Morgan suggested an «incident and plot» focused on the failure of the American aerial effort in World War I and the effect that the country's «aviation unpreparedness» would have in upcoming conflicts. Lasky liked the idea, and approved the project under the working title «The Menace.»   LEFT: Byron Morgan (1889-1963). RIGHT: Jesse L. Lasky (1880-1958).   During his development of the scenario with William Shepherd, a former war correspondent, Morga

80 Reasons Why I Love Classic Films (Part II)

I started this blog six years ago as a way to share my passion for classic films and Old Hollywood. I used to watch dozens of classic films every month, and every time I discovered a new star I liked I would go and watch their entire filmography. But somewhere along the way, that passion dimmed down. For instance, I watched 73 classic films in 2016, and only 10 in 2020. The other day, I found this film with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. that I had never heard of — the film is Mimi (1935), by the way — and for some reason it made me really excited about Old Hollywood again. It made me really miss the magic of that era and all the wonderful actors and actresses. And it also made me think of all the reasons why I fell in love with classic films in the first place. I came with 80 reasons, which I thought would be fun to share with you. Most of them are just random little scenes or quirky little quotes, but put them together and they spell Old Hollywood to me. Yesterday I posted part one ; here i

Top 10 Favourite Christmas Films

Christmas has always been a source of inspiration to many artists and writers. Over the years, filmmakers have adapted various Christmas stories into both movies and TV specials, which have become staples during the holiday season all around the world. Even though Christmas is my favourite holiday, I haven't watched a lot of Christmas films. Still, I thought it would be fun to rank my top 10 favourites, based on the ones that I have indeed seen. Here they are.  10. Holiday Affair (1949) Directed by Don Hartman, Holiday Affair tells the story of a young widow (Janet Leigh) torn between a boring attorney (Wendell Corey) and a romantic drifter (Robert Mitchum). She's engaged to marry the boring attorney, but her son (Gordon Gebert) likes the romantic drifter better. Who will she choose? Well, we all know who she will choose.   Holiday Affair is not by any means the greatest Christmas film of all time, but it's still a very enjoyable Yule-tide comedy to watch over the holi

The Gotta Dance! Blogathon: Gene Kelly & Judy Garland

In 1940, up-and-coming Broadway star Gene Kelly was offered the lead role in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's new musical Pal Joey , based on the eponymous novel by John O'Hara about an ambitious and manipulative small-time nightclub performer. Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day of that year, the show brought Gene his best reviews up to that date. For instance, John Martin of The New York Times wrote of him: «A tap-dancer who can characterize his routines and turn them into an integral element of an imaginative theatrical whole would seem to be pretty close, indeed, to unique .»   One of Gene's performances in Pal Joey was attended by established Hollywood star Judy Garland , who requested to meet him after the show. Gene agreed and then accompanied Judy and her entourage, which included her mother Ethel and several press agents, to dinner at the newly-opened Copacabana nightclub, at 10 East 60th Street. They sang and danced until 3 a.m., after whi

Films I Saw in July & August

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in July and August, which make up a total of 18 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Resistance (2011) | Starring Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wlaschiha and Michael Sheen Siberian Education [Educazione siberiana] (2013) | Starring Arnas Fedaravi čius The Last of Robin Hood (2013) | Starring Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning The Water Diviner (2014) | Starring Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko and Yılmaz Erdoğan Holding the Man (2015) | Starring Ryan Corr, Craig Stott and Anthony LaPaglia The Last King [Birkebeinerne] (2016) | Starring Jakob Oftebro and Kristofer Hivju The Pass (2016) | Starring Russell Tovey and Arinzé Kene Access All Areas (2017) | Starring Ella Purnell, Edward Bluemel and Georgie Henle

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

  In January 1944, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer happened to see a young crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra perform at a benefit concert for The Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. According to Nancy Sinatra, Frank's eldest daughter, Mayer was so moved by her father's soulful rendition of « Ol' Man River » that he made the decision right then and there to sign Frank to his studio. Sinatra had been on the MGM payroll once before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the Eleanor Powell vehicle Ship Ahoy (1942), although it is very likely that Mayer never bothered to see that film. Now that Frank was «hot,» however, Metro made arrangements to buy half of his contract from RKO, with the final deal being signed in February of that year. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in  Anchors Aweigh Being a contract player at the studio that boasted «more stars than there are in the heavens» gave Frank a sudden perspective regarding his own talents as a film performer. The «g

Films I Saw in May & June

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in May and June, which make up a total of 16 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Pelle the Conqueror [Pelle Erobreren] (1987) | Starring Pelle Hvenegaard The Elementary School [ Obecná škola] (1991) | Starring Václav Jakoubek Female Agents [Les Femmes de l'ombre] (2008) | Starring Sophie Marceau Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe [Vor der Morgenröte] (2016) | Starring Josef Hader ❤ Cold War [Zimna wojna] (2018) | Starring Tomasz Kot, Joanna Kulig and Borys Szyc Dreamland (2019) | Starring Finn Cole, Margot Robbie, Travis Fimmel and Garrett Hedlund Mr Jones (2019) | Starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard Official Secrets (2019) | Starring Keira Knightley, Matt Smith an