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

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 to do some digging. I was able to find one review, from the August 1932 issue of Photoplay:

(Magazine via capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Magazine via 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.