(director: George Roy Hill; screenwriters: Isobel Lennart/based on the play by Tennessee Williams; cinematographer: Paul Vogel; editor: Fredric Steinkamp; music: Lyn Murray; cast: Anthony Franciosa (Ralph Baitz), Jane Fonda (Isabel Haverstick), Jim Hutton (George Haverstick), Lois Nettleton (Dorothea Baitz), John McGiver (Stewart P. McGill), Mabel Albertson (Alice McGill), Jack Albertson (Desk Sergeant); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Lawrence Weingarten; MGM; 1962)
“It veered wonderfully between adult comedy and poignant tender moments.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Oscar-winning director George Roy Hill (“Hawaii”/”Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”/”The Sting”), in his auspicious directorial debut, comes up with an engaging comedy about the fear of sexual performance causing problems for a honeymoon couple. It’s based on a Tennessee Williams play and adapted to the screen by Isobel Lennart. Surprisingly, for the acclaimed playwright of Southern decadence, this is an atypical lighthearted domestic comedy set during the Christmas season. The title is derived by a favorite expression of one of the lead characters, who insists marriage requires a “period of adjustment” to resolve any lingering problems. Jane Fonda, in her fourth film, before she sought out more demanding roles, superbly plays a wide-eyed and ditsy Southern belle as if she were Marilyn Monroe (acting with bleach blonde hair, artificial eyelashes, and falsies).

Korean War veteran George Haverstick (Jim Hutton) marries Isabel (Jane Fonda), his nurse, while recovering from the shakes in an army hospital in St. Louis. As the couple depart for their honeymoon, Isabel is frightened when she realizes that she hardly knows George and that he just quit his job. They drive to Miami in a 1939 Cadillac hearse he just bought, to bask in the sun. When they end up at a cheap motel George, who always boasted about his prowess in bed with women, is too frightened that he will be inadequate and gets drunk on their wedding night instead of biblically consummating the marriage.

The couple quarrel and George decides to take his disenchanted bride to visit his wartime buddy, Ralph Baitz (Anthony Franciosa), in High Point, Tennessee. George hopes to get marital advice from the more experienced Ralph, who has been married to Dorothea (Lois Nettleton) for six years and has a son. To the couple’s dismay, Ralph and his mate had a spat over his suddenly quitting his job in her rich daddy’s dairy company. Dorothea feels unloved and spends Christmas Eve at her folks’ home. The couple are dismayed to find out that the war hero, Ralph, confesses to marrying Dotty for her father’s money even though he didn’t love her and thought she was unattractive. When the domineering in-laws, the McGills (Mabel Albertson & John McGiver), come over to Ralph’s modest suburban place to collect their daughter’s things, an argument takes place and all the parties are taken to the police station. The honeymooners feel terrible for the Baitzes, whom they both like very much, and try to bring them together, which succeeds in Ralph comforting Dotty by saying how much he has come to love her over the years. When the Baitzes’ spat is settled, the honeymooners try to settle their spat. George, who covers his insecurities by acting macho, begins to look more carefully at himself and his nervous disorder, and he now honestly tries to reconcile with his understanding wife.

All the performances were top-notch and the minor play by Tennessee Williams was still much better than most scripts turned in for this rom-com genre. It veered wonderfully between adult comedy and poignant tender moments. I found this a better Christmas story than most Christmas films–it had the true spirit of the holiday season and included a nice loopy segment with Christmas carolers.

Jane Fonda and Jim Hutton in Period of Adjustment (1962)