The Pre-Code Blogathon: Week-End Marriage (1932)

This film is reviewed for the Pre-Code Blogathon. Check out hosts Pre-Code.com and for more early '30s fun!

This film is reviewed for the Pre-Code Blogathon. Check out hosts Pre-Code.com and Shadows & Satin for more early ’30s fun!

NOTE: This review contains some spoilers, but they are clearly marked.

Lola (Loretta Young) and Ken (Norman Foster) are young and in love. They’ve been together for a year, and expect to marry some day. But Ken doesn’t want to marry until he’s got a better-paying job.

(Image via Art, Movies, Wood and Whatnot)

(Image via Art, Movies, Wood and Whatnot)

Lola thinks they could make it. After all, her brother (Roscoe Karns) isn’t nearly as well-off as Ken, but he and his wife Agnes (Aline MacMahon) seem to be doing just fine.

Ken, rather than getting hitched to Lola, is called to South America for his job — and he couldn’t be more excited to go. Lola, meanwhile, is heartbroken over the fact that he’s leaving.

Lola and Ken must make decisions for  their futures and deal with the aftermath of those decisions in 1932’s Week-End Marriage. The film was directed by Thornton Freeland and is based on a Faith Baldwin novel.

The highlight of Week-End Marriage is Agnes, Lola’s badass sister-in-law, portrayed by Aline MacMahon. She’s a career woman through and through — unwilling to be a stay-at-home wife whose worth is confined to how well she keeps the home, and not yet willing to give up her job to become a mother. She’s very outspoken about her beliefs and has a pretty brash sense of humor. The character is pretty great, and Aline MacMahon does a stellar job in the role.

Loretta Young is very good as well. TCM aired a birthday tribute to her in January, so I caught a few new-to-me films of hers on WatchTCM and was impressed by her performances in all of them. Her scenes with MacMahon early on in this film, as Agnes tries to plot a proposal-catching plan for Lola to marry Ken, are quite funny. She effortlessly provokes emotion in the film’s later dramas, too.

(Image via film-cine.com)

(Image via film-cine.com)

Speaking on the film’s later portion, this is one of those movies that pulls a fast one on the viewer. The first half is basically romantic comedy with a light bit of drama — lots of witty dialogue and humorous side characters that make it fun, but no heavy conflict. [MILD SPOILER] And then things go waaaay downhill when Ken loses his job and becomes jealous that Lola is the family “breadwinner.” [END SPOILER]

The exploration of gender roles is interesting. Agnes and Lola are both very likable characters, and the modern viewer is quick to sympathize with them rather than their husbands.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism of this film, with some viewers interpreting it as having a “woman’s place is in the home” message, but throughout most of the film Agnes and Lola’s decisions are portrayed as positive developments. The final ten minutes or so do get very messy, though, validating the opinions of those critical viewers.

[MORE SPOILERS] Ken gets sick, and Lola is suddenly chastised for not “taking care” of her husband well enough, for choosing to work. Forget the fact that she and Ken would have gone broke when he lost his job if she hadn’t been working, and forget the fact that he spent his nights out, drinking with other women instead of productively looking for a job. None of that matters — Lola accepts him, ditches her job and transforms herself into the perfect wife. Even Agnes changes her tune! It’s a sudden and disappointing turn of events. [END SPOILERS]

As often happens when I watch a film I feel conflicted about, I became curious as to how audiences at the time received Week-End Marriage. Not owning any movie mags from 1932 (unfortunately), I turned to the Museum of Modern Art’s collection of fan mags on Archive.org to do some digging. I was able to find one review, from the August 1932 issue of Photoplay:

(Magazine via Archive.org/Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

(Magazine via Archive.org/Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

While Photoplay agrees with me that Aline MacMahon’s presence adds to the film, Week-End Marriage is praised by the mag for having “an earnest little moral.” All other mentions of the film in Photoplay’s issues for 1932 borrow language from this brief review, describing the film as “earnest.” This isn’t particularly surprising, as our ideas about marriage and gender roles have shifted in the past eight decades since the film’s release.

I can’t come up with a score for this film, since it does change so dramatically in the final minutes, in both tone and message. It’s worth a watch for the performances and definitely provokes thought, but I just can’t get on board with that ending.

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9 thoughts on “The Pre-Code Blogathon: Week-End Marriage (1932)

  1. shadowsandsatin says:

    Hi, Lindsey! I am so glad you selected this film — it’s one of my favorite Loretta Lynn pre-Codes, and I watch it quite frequently. I’m a big Norman Foster fan — I’m really not sure why, because he’s not exactly Lawrence Olivier, but there’s just something about his performances that gets me. (Maybe because they’re so EARNEST. LOL) And I totally agree with your assessment of Aline MacMahon (who looks beautiful in the photo you chose, BTW) and her character. I recently bought a copy of Faith Baldwin’s book, but I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet. Maybe I’ll include it on my list of must-reads this summer. Thanks so much for participating in our blogathon, and for your first-rate write-up!

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    • Lindsey says:

      I’m really interested to read the book, too — I loved ‘Skyscraper’ by Faith Baldwin, but haven’t read any of her other novels/stories. I need to track down a copy!

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  2. California Girl says:

    I just finished reading “Complicated Women: Sex & Power in Pre-Code Hollywood” by Mick LaSalle Given your subject matter of late, this is the book for you. It’s absolutely fascinating, delving into behind-the-scenes power of actresses during this time, the toothless oversight of the Hays Commission until they brought in Joseph Breen, the changing tastes of the public thanks to women getting the vote, women working, Prohibition, double standards etc., the female stars who pushed for uncompromising roles about modern women, particularly Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo, and the way it all came crashing down. Really fascinating book.

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