Watching 1939: Made for Each Other (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Made for Each Other (1939)

Release date:  Feb. 10, 1939

Cast:  Carole Lombard, James Stewart, Charles Coburn, Lucile Watson, Bonnie Belle Barber, Eddie Quillan, Alma Kruger, Irving Bacon, Louise Beavers, Ward Bond, Esther Dale, Harry Davenport, Olin Howland, Ruth Weston, Donald Briggs (uncredited)

Studio:  Selznick International Pictures

Director:  John Cromwell

Plot:
While in Boston for business, attorney John Mason (Stewart) marries Jane (Lombard) after only knowing her for a few days. Not everyone is excited about the new couple’s marriage. John’s demanding boss, Judge Doolittle (Coburn), isn’t a fan of the marriage and doesn’t approve of honeymoons. Gossip also paired John with Doolittle’s daughter, Eunice (Weston). John’s mother (Watson) also passed out dead in a faint and is critical of everything Jane does. The couple faces tensions as they get to know each other, particularly with John’s job. The couple has a baby and on New Year’s Eve of 1938-39, the child comes critically ill.

1939 Notes:
• Carole Lombard was in two films in 1939: Made for Each Other and In Name Only
• James Stewart was in five films released in 1939.
• The only film that John Cromwell directed in 1939 were the two with Carole Lombard.
• Eddie Quillan was in six films released in 1939.
• Lucille Watson was in two films released in 1939: Made for Each Other and The Women
• Irving Bacon was in 36 films released in 1939.

James Stewart and Carole Lombard riding home with their new baby in “Made for Each Other”

Other trivia: 
• The baby playing John Mason Jr. was played by a little girl, Bonnie Belle Barber, who was five months old when the film was released.
• Special effects technician Edmund E. Fellegi was killed on the set of “Made for Each Other” during the New Years Eve scene. He fell 40 feet off a catwalk while releasing balloons in the scene, according to AFI.
• Music by Oscar Levant

James Stewart and Carole Lombard on New Year’s Eve

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Carole Lombard started in films in 1930 and by 1934, she was on the path to becoming a screwball comedian. But by 1939, Lombard wanted a change of pace.

She wanted to move away from comedies and do more dramas and the answer to that was David O. Selznick’s “Made for Each Other.”

Lombard’s co-star is James Stewart, and while Stewart is known as a major star today, he was still up-and-coming in 1939. Stewart was specifically selected to work with Carole Lombard. He was picked as her leading man so that others like Gable, Cooper or Grant wouldn’t overshadow her dramatic role, according to Jimmy Stewart: A Biography by Marc Eliot.

There were concerns that Lombard would actually overpower Stewart, but I think they work well together.

“Made for Each Other” wasn’t a box office success. LIFE magazine even wrote that when Carole Lombard cries in “Made for Each Other” was the end of the screwball comedy genre.

While the film may not have done well, I like it and the look it gives at marriage. Two people trying to get to learn each other and make it, despite challenges with jobs, families and finances. Many scenes are really heartbreaking too, especially the New Year’s Eve scene where the couple wonders if their marriage was a mistake.

Carole Lombard may be known best for her comedies, but I really like her in her dramatic roles as well. This role paved the way for other wonderful film roles for Lombard like “In Name Only” (1939) and, one of my favorites, “Vigil In The Night” (1940). As Lombard was starting this new phase of her career, she was also slowing down a bit to focus on her marriage with Clark Gable. And sadly, her career ended in 1942 when she died in a plane crash. You have to wonder how her career would have progressed had she lived.

James Stewart does a great job as a timid man caught between two strong women – his wife and his mother, played by Lucille Watson. While this is a great role for Stewart, it is overshadowed by one of his best roles, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Stewart’s career had ups and down in 1939, from playing an ice skater in “Ice Follies of 1939” with Joan Crawford to playing in the lopsided comedy, “It’s a Wonderful World,” mismatched with Claudette Colbert. “Made for Each Other” is one of his better roles of the year.

And who could better play a nagging mother-in-law than Lucille Watson? Watson can play almost any role, but she does the meddling mother best. Here she is complete with passing out when she learns her son is married and nagging her daughter-in-law about doing everything wrong with her new baby. I think we all know a mother-in-law like that, right?

Charles Coburn can play love and cuddly well and he can also play the harsh antagonist to the hilt. Here he is the latter, always critical of Stewart on his work and home life and giving others chances before Stewart, who is one of the hardest workers in the office.

An unsung role in “Made for Each Other” is Louise Beavers. She has a very small role and doesn’t appear until half way through the film, but Beavers has one of the best roles. While Carole Lombard is working to support everyone around her (emotionally, etc), Beavers is the one person who tries to build Lombard up. She is the only person to speak truth on her family situation and tries to help her.

LIFE magazine made it sound negative that the screwball comedy genre ended as soon as Lombard cried in “Made for Each Other.” But by the late-1930s, I think the climate of the world needed to move on from the zany, shouting comedic style. Lombard plays drama well – adapting to marriage and motherhood in “Made for Each Other.” This film may not have done well in the box office, but I think it is a good film and exhibits the changing careers of both Lombard and Stewart. There may be a few funny moments in this film, but there are several heartbreaking scenes, so prepare yourself.

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