MA AND PA KETTLE

VOLUMES 1 AND 2

UNIVERSAL HOME VIDEO

"What! YOU like the MA & PA KETTLE movies?" said my astonished friend, (as he knew that my tastes generally run to recognized cinema classics like SUNSET BLVD, THE THIRD MAN, VERTIGO, etc.) To which my answer was an unqualified "YES!"            

The point is that I consider films, such as the ones mentioned above, the cinematic equivalent of gourmet dining, but there are times when I'm in the mood for good, simple, and nourishing home cooking, and the MA & PA KETTLE series remains, to this day, basic country cooking at its finest (and funniest!)             

The "kettle" started boiling with a film called THE EGG AND I, in which the Kettles (Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride) are really just supporting characters opposite major stars Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray in this adaptation of the Betty MacDonald bestseller about a citified couple who haplessly buy a run-down chicken farm in the country, and endure disastrously comical tribulations. The film (which still provides considerable amusement) turned out to be Universal-International's biggest box-office success of the year, and  spawned a series of low-rent, but extremely popular films in which Main and Kilbride starred as the countrified couple.

The first was MA & PA KETTLE, in which the Kettles attempt to spruce up their ramshackle farm in order to impress a visiting college official to get their son into college. For my money this is easily the best of the post "EGG & I" series, and the most consistently funny. 

Then came arguably the weakest of this batch MA & PA KETTLE GO TO TOWN, wherein the Kettles win a trip to New York and misguidedly leave the baby-sitting chores to a notorious bank robber. The problem here is that when the Kettles are removed from their "natural " habitat, the humor seems forced and isn't helped by some very weak supporting players. (The big surprise here is that Universal actually spent the money to film some of the scenes in this extremely low budget film in New York-----for what little we see of the Big Apple they might just as well have used downtown Los Angeles.)  

The series rebounds somewhat with MA & PA KETTLE BACK ON THE FARM in which the Kettles return to the "peace and quiet" of their farm only to learn that not only are they about to become grandparents, but they must deal with their son's snooty Eastern in-laws. While this is far from the best of the series, there are enough big laughs to justify its existence. It's quite clear, though, that as the series progressed, so did the budgets regress.

I compared the transfers of THE EGG & I and (THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF) MA & PA KETTLE with those of the double-feature laserdisc, and while the source material appears to be the same on both, the advances of dvd technology make their mark here, rendering the dvd image vastly preferable. The sharpness in particular is dramatically improved on the dvd. MA & PA KETTLE GO TO TOWN and particularly, MA & PA KETTLE BACK ON THE FARM are equally sharp, but the image at times suffers from noticeable, though tolerable, graininess.

The quality of the transfers of Volume Two of THE ADVENTURES OF MA AND PA KETTLE is substantially the same as Volume One, and while the humor seems to get gradually more forced, there remain enough laughs in the second collection to please KETTLE completists. MA AND PA KETTLE AT THE FAIR is easily the weakest of the bunch , but the Kettles rebound somewhat in ON VACATION, and AT HOME  includes some very big laughs, and while there's ample evidence of strain in AT WAIKIKI even it contains a few  pretty good guffaws.

The big news ,though, is that the Kettles are finally on dvd. Just to hear the great Marjorie Main bellow "C-O-M-E   A-N-D   G-E-T I-T  !! " is music to my ears. Come and get it indeed!

--DICK DINMAN  

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