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CATERED AFFAIR, THE(director: Richard Brooks; screenwriters: Gore Vidal/based on the Teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky; cinematographer: John Alton; editors: Gene Ruggiero/Frank Santillo; music: Andre Previn; cast: Bette Davis (Mrs. Aggie Hurley), Ernest Borgnine (Tom Hurley), Debbie Reynolds (Jane Hurley), Barry Fitzgerald (Uncle Jack Conlon), Rod Taylor (Ralph Halloran), Dorothy Stickney (Mrs. Rafferty), Ray Stricklyn (Eddie Hurley), Mae Clarke (Saleswoman), Jay Adler (Sam Leiter); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Zimbalist; MGM; 1956)
“Plays like Marty but without the same winsome appeal.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A heavy going period piece “kitchen sink drama” revolving around an economically struggling and bickering Bronx Irish family, that plays like Marty but without the same winsome appeal. It rails on and on about the tragedy of ordinary life but never reaches the same dramatic impact as the more successful Marty. Gore Vidal adapted it from a TV drama written by Paddy Chayefsky; the original telecast had starred Thelma Ritter. Richard Brooks (“Blackboard Jungle”/”Lord Jim”/”In Cold Blood”) directs with an eye out for gritty realism, but fails to catch the sudden swings that go from pungency to farce without having the film fall on its face over all the vulgarism and drabness on display.

Jane Hurley (Debbie Reynolds), the sweet and level-headed older sister of Eddie (Ray Stricklyn) and daughter of hardworking nightshift NYC taxi driver Tom Hurley (Ernest Borgnine) and her domineering long-suffering working-class mom Aggie (Bette Davis), announces at breakfast she’s to marry her long-time teacher boyfriend Ralph Halloran (Rod Taylor) and wants a small wedding at the church with only a few immediate family members. This pleases Tom, who has saved up the last twelve years to buy his own cab for $4,000 with his partner Sam (Jay Adler). But lush bachelor Uncle Jack Conlon (Barry Fitzgerald), who lives with the Hurleys, resents not being invited, and bitterly complains as he’s told if they invite him they will have to invite all the other relatives of the large family.

Before long, Mrs. Hurley caught in the fever of ‘keeping-up-with-the-Jones’,’ spouts to her only daughter “You’re going to have a big wedding whether you like it or not, and if you don’t like it you don’t have to come.” She goes full steam ahead with a plan to have “a catered affair’ despite realizing it would put the family in debt and that the wedding couple prefer a small wedding.

The highlight of Bette’s performance is her crackup scene, when she learns all her plans went down the drain and she breaks into tears and breaks down in the bedroom.

Besides being dated, this was not a very enjoyable film. It bombed at the box office.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”