A comic force of nature
Character actress Marjorie Main made a career of playing comic matrons; her characters were often rough around the edges but usually revealed a soft center where young love or children were concerned. Any movie in which Marjorie Main makes an appearance is probably worth watching just because of her own screen presence and irresistible comic appeal, but here are ten of Main’s best pictures.
1. Stella Dallas (1937)
2. The Women (1939)
3. A Woman’s Face (1941)
4. Heaven Can Wait (1943)
5. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
6. The Harvey Girls (1946)
7. The Egg and I (1947)
8. Ma and Pa Kettle (1949)
9. The Long, Long Trailer (1953)
10. Friendly Persuasion (1956)
The Headliner: Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Dir. Vincente Minnelli
In this star vehicle for Judy Garland, Main plans the overworked and underappreciated housekeeper, Katie, who helps to manage the boisterous Smith family. This is the kind of role that defined Main’s career; her character’s gruff manner and willingness to argue generate some friction within the household, but her devotion is never really a question. Main also starred with Garland in The Harvey Girls; although less well known, it actually offers Main a better part and more opportunities to flex her comic talent.
The Hidden Gem: The Egg and I (1947)
Dir. Chester Erskine
Main actually earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in this lovable comedy adapted from Betty MacDonald’s memoirs. The film stars Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray as an urban couple who move to the country to run an egg farm, but Main and her co-star, Percy Kilbride, completely steal the picture as their wacky neighbors, the Kettles.
The Cult Classic: Ma and Pa Kettle (1949)
Dir. Charles Lamont
Main and Kilbride were so popular in The Egg and I that they went on to star in a whole series of Ma and Pa Kettle pictures. While the sequels lack the A list stars of the original, they do offer the hilarious further adventures of the Kettle family. You’ll sometimes find a marathon of the Kettle pictures on old movie channels; if you do, grab some popcorn and settle in for several hours of fluffy, silly fun.