Classic Film Guide

Facts of Life, The (1960) - full review!

Directed by Melvin Frank, who co-wrote it with producer Norman Panama, this romance drama was originally written as a Brief Encounter (1945) type movie for James Stewart & Olivia de Havilland , who's only film together ended up being Airport ‘77 (1977). Eight years later, it was modified into a more comedic look at two persons who are frustrated by their attempts to have an affair. Hence, it stars Bob Hope and Lucille Ball; Ruth Hussey (in her final film) and Don DeFore play their spouses, respectively. Louis Nye and Philip Ober, among others, also appear. Writers Frank & Panama, who had earlier collaborated on the Hope & (Bing) Crosby comedy Road to Utopia (1946), earned an Academy Award nomination for their story and screenplay; the film's title song, and B&W Art Direction-Set Decoration & Cinematography were also nominated. Edith Head's (& Edward Stevenson's, his only) B&W Costume Design won the Oscar.

The Gilberts, the Weavers, and the Masons, along with the Busbees on occasion, are middle class, suburban married couples who socialize at the same country club and even take their vacations together sometimes, to save expenses. Larry Gilbert (Hope) and Kitty Weaver (Ball), who don't particularly get along, are two in this group. However, the film begins with Kitty getting off a plane where she's greeted by Larry, who kisses her affectionately. These two have finally decided to consummate their extramarital affair which began, innocently enough, on one of those shared vacations. While Larry goes to get their luggage and the rental car, Kitty has time to reflect on how she and he happen to be in Monterey together. So, in flashback, she remembers:

The country club's annual golf tournament is over and Larry, as usual, is its emcee. He's giving out the awards, one to Hamilton Busbee (Nye), while delivering the same tired jokes he always does, evoking polite chuckles from the members. Kitty, however, is bored enough with the routine to inadvertently, yet rudely, yawn during the proceedings. Naturally, this upsets Larry who complains about her behavior to his dependable wife Mary (Hussey) on the way home. Meanwhile Kitty, who'd been sitting with Mary, Doc Mason (Ober) and his wife Connie (Marianne Stewart), is berating her husband Jack (DeFore) for leaving her alone to gamble away $200 at a craps game. Once they're home, Jack is able charm Kitty into getting ready for some romance, but she is disappointed to find he's fallen asleep by the time she's ready. The Gilberts are able to carry on a conversation getting ready for bed by sharing the same sink, but then learn from their babysitter (or maid, Louise Beavers!) that one of their two boys is getting sick. After a visit from Doc Mason, Mary tells her husband that she won't be able to join him for a couple of days on their Acapulco vacation, planned with the Masons and the Weavers. The next morning, Jack gets a call from his boss that means he'll have to miss the first few days as well.

On the flight to Acapulco, Kitty learns that Larry paints, which begins to shatter her preconceived notions about the man. The Masons are quickly stricken with food poisoning so that Kitty and Larry have only each other with whom to socialize. While initially this is a daunting and undesirable option, they each decide that being together would be better than being alone. They catch a huge marlin while deep sea fishing (Vito Scotti appears, uncredited, as one of the boat's crew), after which they celebrate by embracing. Even though they pull away from the kiss, each has begun to think of the other differently. Their new relationship begins slowly, with Kitty and Larry both starting and stopping themselves from pursuing something more. When they learn that their spouses will not be joining them and the Masons sickness persists, they end up spending the entire week with one another, laughing most of the time. At the end of the trip, it's clear that they've fallen in love with one another, even though they haven't slept together. But, they part and go their separate ways.

It probably would have just been a "shipboard romance" type of thing but, because of their country club clan, Kitty and Larry find themselves in social situations together that include dancing. When combined with the decidedly unromantic, and instead humdrum lives of their home lives, including Larry being ignored by his two kids who ask mom for everything, the two mutually agree to meet again in secret. This proves to be too dangerous (of being exposed) or complicated - there are a couple of mildly humorous situations, one involving a mutual cleaner (who comes door to door!), played by Peter Leeds, and a seedy hotel manager (Robert Simon), who plays along with Larry and Kitty having the names George & Martha Washington. Thus, the weekend away together in Monterey (e.g. the flashback is over).

Before she'd left for the tryst, Kitty had left her husband a "Dear John" letter, telling him everything. When she tells this to Larry, he is upset, but accepts their situation. He then begins to tell Kitty what will happen next, acting like the man in change she hadn't seen, and it's clear that this will be the beginning of the end of their relationship.

*** SPOILERS ***

The film's story devolves into a series of slapstick or other scenes which probably don't come across as funny as the writers had intended. It rains which, while this is used a lot to begin romantic relationships in the movies, causes the couple's convertible and then idyllic "cabin in the woods" to flood. This, along with planning their divorces, puts Kitty and Larry in situations and discussions which might normally take years to come about, effectively forcing them to learn more about the other quickly. In other words, they experience the opposite of what they had probably imagined their liaison would be like. Both are disillusioned and perhaps a little relieved at the same time that they haven't yet consummated their relationship. On the radio, they hear that the weather has caused the closing of the sky slopes where Kitty's husband had been with their child, so she and Larry decide to beat them back home to intercept her letter in time. Unfortunately, they run into Hamilton Busbee and his wife Myrtle (Hollis Irving) at the San Francisco airport, which foils their plans. William Lanteau plays the frustrated airline clerk. Kitty actually arrives home after Jack has read the letter, even though he doesn't let her know it. She speaks hopefully of their future together and he discards the letter in the fire joyfully - a new beginning! Mary, unawares, receives Larry home as lovingly as usual and chuckles at his implied idea that he might ever have an affair.

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