John Mason (Jimmy Stewart) is a young lawyer with a promising life ahead. He’s been successful in his work and has a chance of being made partner – especially if he agrees to marry Judge Doolittle’s daughter Eunice.
John is set to move forward with the marriage until, on a business trip, he meets Jane (Carole Lombard). The two fall in love immediately and marry as soon as possible. With most of the people in John’s life disappointed in his decision and stresses continuing to mount (thanks, in part, to the Depression), Jane and John face many obstacles if they want to prove everyone wrong and make their marriage work.
John Cromwell directs Made For Each Other, a 1939 drama produced by David O. Selznick and written by Jo Swerling. The film is based off of Rose Franken’s story.
Made For Each Other starts out a mix of funny and very awkward in the beginning, but it quickly loses both its humor and quirk factor. What follows is a straight and quite harsh melodrama that grips the viewer more intensely as it progresses and different (usually bad) situations arise for the couple.
Rather than following the conventional drama pattern of setting up a conflict early on and then focusing on only that conflict (or only a few smaller conflicts) as it plays out, this film simply follows the course of the couple’s life. There is no singular “big event” that can be considered the film’s focus. The film does seem to drag on a bit as a result, though it isn’t completely dull.
As with any couple, Stewart and Lombard’s characters encounter highs and lows, living the difficult type of life that was unfortunately quite typical during the period in which the film is set. While this tactic certainly lends the film a sense of believability, it isn’t quite as high-energy or entertaining as the conventional structure often is since there is no one issue for the viewer to become emotionally invested in the outcome of.
The most interesting portion of the film is also the most dramatic. [Spoilers] When Jane and John’s baby becomes ill, they must get special medical treatment flown in to save his life. A pilot is shown battling the elements to get the medicine to the family. Interestingly enough, the sequence is based on an experience of Selznick himself. He once had to special-order medicine for his brother and have it flown in by a brave pilot. [End spoilers] These scenes don’t quite fit in with the rest of the film. They seem out of place because they are so much higher on tension than the rest of the scenarios that the couple faces. However, the sequence does finally succeed in drawing the viewer completely into the story.
It’s a bit surprising that this film doesn’t live up to its potential, since the cast is so great. Jimmy Stewart plays his fairly unlikable character with seeming ease. John is a man who lets outside influences – his job, his mother, Judge Doolittle – rule his life too much. As hard as it is to imagine Jimmy Stewart as an unlikable man since his real-life persona was so endearing, he pulls off the role.
Unfortunately, Jimmy does suffer one pitfall here: his chemistry with Lombard. There just isn’t enough of it for the audience to really care about the Masons or root for them. Their individual performances are both very good, and of course the audience sympathizes with many of the difficulties that they face, but they lack the spark that could have saved the film.
A top-notch supporting performance is delivered by Lucile Watson in the role of John’s overbearing, grumpy and imposing mother.
Made For Each Other is a soapy film that could’ve been a great tear-jerker, but doesn’t live up to the potential, especially with such a capable cast on hand. The score: 1.5/5