Saturday, January 9, 2016

'A Word to the Wives': Historical Document of 1950s Gender Roles ... That Helped Launch Darren McGavin, Norman Lloyd Careers

The IMDB plot summary for the 1955 advertising short called A Word to the Wives is succinct, and accurate: "The story of two women and how they trick a husband into renovating a kitchen."

But it doesn't do this 13-minute mini-film justice. A Word to the Wives features one of the earlier acting jobs in the career of Darren McGavin (who plays the put-upon husband). It was directed by Norman Lloyd. And the star (and doing the voice-over narration) is Marsha Hunt, who was acting in movies and television from the 1930s into the 2000s.

That's quite a bit of talent for what was a promotional movie sponsored by the American Gas Association, the National Association of Home Builders, and The Woman's Home Companion. The Internet Archive summary of the movie states that the "American Gas Association offered prints of this film for sale to gas utilities to help them coax builders to incorporate kitchens into their new homes."

It's a comical short that shows two wives - one who just got a brand new house with an all-gas kitchen, the other who badly wants the same - hatch a plot to convince the new-kitchen-craver's husband to take care of his woman, too, with an all-gas kitchen.

That's the other part of A Word to the Wives that makes it worth watching all these years later: It's a look back (an astounding look back, probably, for people younger than a certain age) at the gender roles and gender attitudes prevalent in the United States in the 1950s. (The film was released in 1955.)

It's not a work of art or anything. But A Word to the Wives is an interesting historical document of the era, and in the careers of (in particular) McGavin and Lloyd.

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