THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA
US, 1942, 66 minutes. Black and white.
Marsha Hunt, Richard Carlson, Marjorie Main, Virginia Wiedler, Spring Byington, Allyn Joslyn, Frances Drake, Barry Nelson, Melville Cooper, Sarah Hayden, Margaret Hamilton.
Directed by Jules Dassin.
The Affairs of Martha was the second film directed by Jules Dassin who was later to become famous for his hard-hitting crime films including Brute Force, The Naked City, Night in the City. When he was blacklisted, he went to Europe and made such films as the classic Rififi, Topkapi and Never on Sunday.
The film shows Dassin’s skill as an apprentice director at MGM, directing a number of light films until the filming of Brute Force in 1947.
The film was a star vehicle for Marsha Hunt, often in supporting roles in MGM films like Pride and Prejudice. Here she exerts quite some charm in the central character (and appeared for Jules Dassin in the wartime romantic comedy, A Letter for Evie, in 1946.) There is a strong cast of MGM character actors in support.
The film is a story about a maid who writes a book about the people that she works for in Long Island. Unlike the later book and film, The Help, it turns out not to be an expose but rather an affectionate memoir of the family that she worked for.
The film is a pleasant light comedy, a supporting feature during World War Two.
1. The popularity of this kind of supporting feature? Romance? Comic touches? The strong cast? Long Island, the quiet community and the comedy about silence at the beginning of the film? The families, households, servants? Potential for scandal? Black and white photography? Musical score?
2. The title – a touch more sensational than the reality?
3. The opening and the news item about the book, the screenplay going to the different families, the breakfast scenes, their discussions, wondering whether there was material for an expose? The maids and their different approaches, styles?
4. The Summerfield family, genial, Miranda and her love of gossip? Wanting to stoke up the problems? Martha as the maid, Marjorie Main and her Ma Kettle style as Mrs McKissick? On the phone, gossiping, rounding up the maids? …
5. The meeting of the maids, their discussions, Guinevere and her taking over? McKissick? and her influence? Martha and getting the maids behind her?
6. Jeff and his arrival home, anthropologist, in the Arctic? Bringing Sylvia? Her manner, domination? Jeff and his awkwardness? Reuniting with the family? The tensions with Martha? The revelation of his drinking? The marriage? Martha not getting a divorce? Waiting till he came home? Her night studies? writing the book?
7. Martha and her work with Joel Archer? His courting her? Publishing her book? The irony of the flirtation with Danny? In the kitchen, his rendezvous with Martha? Her forgetting them? Climbing in the window? The fight with Jeff? His misjudging her?
8. The preparation for the meal? All the neighbours coming? Mr Summerfield and his intention to announce the wedding? Miranda and her caution? The father and his caution? Sylvia urging him to make the announcement? Controlling Jeff? The arrival of Joel Archer, being invited in to the meal? The curiosity about the book? Martha and her pressure on Joel? Jeff and his filibuster to delay the announcement? The revelation of the truth?
9. Martha, her plans, going out with Joel, dancing and drinking, the confrontation with Jeff? Her love for him? The announcement about the book, the pleasant contents of the book? Happily reunited with Jeff?
10. A pleasant comedy? Romantic? For audiences during World War Two? Later?