If it’s cluttered, it must be Leisen. In The Mating Season (1951), the director’s affinity for upstaging his characters with set designs and costumes is working against the material. As does John Lund’s dull and self-satisfied screen presence: as clear a case of unfounded narcissism in an actor as you’ll ever see (his only turn I liked so far is to be found in Wilder’s The Foreign Affair ).
This starry-eyed fable of class differences disappearing at will is a great vehicle for Thelma Ritter: in fact, she earned her second Oscar nomination for it. She plays a down-to-earth working class mom of a college graduate Lund, who has hard time admitting to his new wife – a classy diplomat’s kid Gene Tierney – where does he really come from. For a while, Ritter moves in with Lund and Tierney as their maid, which serves as a great source of comedy: especially when Lund’s uptight mother-in-law (Miriam Hopkins) enters the stage and starts putting on airs. And no one puts on airs for long when Thelma Ritter’s around – that lady would burst any bubble of self-importance in three seconds flat.
She doesn’t quite burst Leisen’s, though. As much as I loved some of his movies – Midnight (1939) and Remember the Night (1940) especially – there’s a tendency in him to slow things down and focus on elaborate sets that make some of the scenes look like a 1951 fashion magazine digest. At some point your eye just begins to wander (there’s so much thrown at you it has to) and you start picking up curious items. The most curious one has to be the Aztec-penis wallpaper I spotted at one point, and which I give to you now, reproduced below. Mating season, indeed: