Keeping Company (1940)
Directed by S. Sylvan Simon (who produced Born Yesterday (1950)) this dated Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane (1941)) story whose screenplay was co-written by Adrian Scott (Crossfire (1947)) is a comedy-drama about married life as told through a family of two parents with daughters their eldest first getting engaged then marrying and having to deal with conflict for the first time in her relationship with her fiancé/husband.
Frank Morgan and Irene Rich who also played parents in a much better film (The Mortal Storm (1940)) that same year are Harry & Susan Thomas who have three daughters: their eldest Mary (Ann Rutherford) middle Evelyn (Gloria DeHaven) and youngest Harriet (Virginia Weidler) who provides most of the film’s comic relief. We are first introduced to Harriet who’s a bit wild and obsessed with figuring out ways to get pistachio ice cream “free” and then Evelyn who still allows her father to call her by her childhood nickname “Skinny”. Mary has two suitors Ted Foster (John Shelton) and Jim Reynolds (Dan Dailey – When My Baby Smiles at Me (1948)) both of whom work as automobile salesman for dealership owner Mr. Hellman (Gene Lockhart – Algiers (1938)). Hellman believes Jim is his best employee and thinks Ted lacks motivation.
One afternoon after listening at Mary’s door and hearing her practice accepting a proposal Harriet invites both of her sister’s suitors to come that evening at 8 PM asking each to bring her some pistachio ice cream as well. When Harriet later tells her parents the “secret” that Mary is getting engaged Harry and his wife discuss the fact that both “boys” have been spending an awful lot of time over the past six months with their daughter and that maybe it is the time for it. Later that evening when Harry perceives that nothing will happen unless his daughter has some time alone with only one of the young men he decides to do something. He asks them both about a newer model car and Jim the more industrious of the two volunteers to take him for a test drive. This allows Ted to stammer and haw and eventually propose to Mary. Mary asks him about a previous girlfriend of his Anastasia Atherton (Virginia Grey) who had gone to New York for a modeling career. When Ted convinces her that his relationship with “Stasia” is over Mary accepts his proposal of marriage. Later Ted calls and has his mother (Sara Haden) tell Mary she’s thrilled with her son’s choice over the phone.
The next day Ted impresses Mr. Hellman with his motivation and his secretary (Fern Emmett uncredited) relays the reason “because he just got engaged”. Coincidentally Stasia returns home that same day and calls to ask Ted to come to her house. When he does it’s to inform her of his engagement to Mary. Though disappointed Stasia offers to sell her new car to Ted via a payment plan. When he is convinced that no one in their small town knows that it’s Stasia’s car he accepts but makes her promise to keep their arrangement secret. Harry and his wife discuss their daughter’s pending marriage and take it upon themselves to educate the youngsters about the reality of the institution. Though Susan talks with Mary and Harry talks to Ted both young people are convinced they’ll never have any conflicts because they’ve never had an argument in their relationship to date. Ted & Mary are married and Harriet who was initially in tears that her older sister was leaving home and in essence breaking up the family is thrilled to catch the bouquet.
Of course the business relationship Ted has with Stasia which he’s kept secret from his wife will be misinterpreted as a continued personal relationship with his ex-girlfriend by Mary. This compounded by the immature communications skills of both will lead to further conflict including a sticky situation for Ted with Mr. Hellman causing the couple to reevaluate their marriage. But never fear a Hollywood ending is inevitable.