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Postwar Cultural Determinants Examined in the Hybridization of Social Satire and Early Romantic Comedy

Several cultural determinants examined in Postwar Hollywood, 1946-1962 are exemplified in the films I Was a Male War Bride and The Mating Season.

For example, during the period of the Cold War, the fear of being labeled a “subversive” was pervasive in America. McCarthy’s government sanctioned witch hunts led by the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the FBI caused extreme paranoia. Consequently, it was important to be viewed as a patriotic member of the crowd.

I Was a Male War Bride moves satire out of the private realm and into the contemporary issues of society. In this film, we see a critique of government and bureaucracy. The critique begins early in the film when we’ve only met the first romantic, Henri Rochard. As Henri walks down the hallway of the military office he attempts to figure out the absurdly long “official” acronyms written on each door. Eventually, he comes to an acronym he simply can’t figure out: L-A-D-I-E-S. He stands puzzled a moment, until finally a woman swings through the door, revealing that it is actually the entrance to the woman’s restroom. Henri’s assumption that ‘LADIES” must stand for something else, sheds light on the ridiculousness and inefficiency of so many acronyms being used by the government.

The ‘LADIES’ gag is well placed as it also foreshadows the obstacles Henri will soon face. Little does he know, he will be denied entrance to many doors meant only for ladies, before the film is over. Once Henri and Catherine are married, they must find a way for him to travel to America with her as a civilian. Their lawyer decides that he must be labeled a ‘Male War Bride.’ While traveling, he is not allowed to stay with his wife, because he isn’t military, yet he isn’t allowed to share accommodations with the other war brides, because he isn’t a woman. He is forced to repeat time and time again that he is traveling under the War Bride Act, to many skeptical officials. He is even denied access to the boat to America. These obstacles represent a metaphor influenced by the cold war mentality. Casper states that, “the dissent/consensus debate colored the conflictual strategy of most postwar films. Individuality - finding it; holding on to it-was a primary trait of the protagonist (8). Henri did not conform to what was thought of as “normal.” This critique of conformism showed that if an individual can’t fit into a predetermined mold, then that individual basically did not exist. Thus, Henri spent much of the film as a displaced character.

The Mating Season is also influenced by postwar cultural determinants. Like I Was A Male War Bride, this film is a hybridization of romantic comedy with social satire. The issue of class is fore-grounded in this film.

The period after the war was a time of economic resurgence. Many professional spheres were expanding and a consumer culture emerged. Money was of utmost importance as Americans sought to buy the latest products and take leisurely vacations. Val feels ashamed to come from humble economic roots and wants to fit in with Maggie’s upper-class family. He doesn’t admit his mother’s profession and he buys an apartment he can barely afford - because it is in the “right” part of town. In no time at all, he is in debt as he attempts to give his wife a lifestyle to which she is accustomed. Appearance is key and Val does his best to keep it up. When a dinner guest inquires after their silverware, Val lies about it being a family heirloom. In actuality, it has been rented. Symbols of status were important during this period. Conspicuous consumerism made it so that money was on everyone’s minds. When his mother Ellen comes to live with them, she points it out immediately as she says, “Three out of five marriages end because of dough.” Ellen is determined to help her son keep up his masquerade as she practices one of her own, posing as a maid.

The Mating Season also speaks to the idea of conformity. As Val seeks to move up in his company, he and Maggie are invited over to a posh lunch at the home of his employer. While there, the wife of a prospective employer tells Maggie she was instructed to “look her over.” This woman states that there’s a certain type of wife allowed in these kinds of circles and she essentially judges whether or not Maggie fits the bill. In the end, Maggie’s feisty behavior offends the conservative older woman. At the film’s conclusion, Val presents his own lower-class mother to this judgmental woman in an act of defiance against the bourgeoisie crowd. His employer, Mr. Kalenger, likewise defies propriety and conformity by deciding to marry Ellen.

Casper, Drew. Postwar Hollywood: 1946-1962. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Glitre, Kathrina. Hollywood Romantic Comedy: States of the Union, 1934-1965. United Kingdom: Manchester UP, 2006.

Film Romantic Comedy Hollywood History


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