This week has been a sort of ‘Wedding Week’. Not aggressively so but enough to make you think. I popped into the Richmond Odeon to kill a couple of hours while I waited for my ‘friend of the bride’ dress to be altered, and was confronted with a film called 27 Dresses. Not a title that you would expect to have the box office tills ringing but I have been reliably informed that it has taken over $130,000,000 in the States so it had to have something going for it. As I was going to the wedding of a friend’s daughter at the weekend I wanted to see what was expected of me. The blissful tale revolves around a perpetual bridesmaid, Katherine Heigl (hence the 27 dresses) and her unrequited love for her boss, played without a lot of effort by Edward Burns. It tries hard to be quirky and out there but is derivative of every wedding ever filmed. All I learned from it was a lot of anguish, bad temper, double dealing and unhappy families goes into the build-up for a perfect wedding.
The wedding I went to was a bit Four Weddings-ish. All morning suits, posh frocks and popping champagne corks in a country house setting that Agatha Christie would have been proud to be seen dead in. The following day a clay pigeon shoot had been arranged. I was a bit miffed that I hadn’t been asked to partake. After all I am practically an expert. If you have seen my Jason King episode, The Company I keep, you would understand what I mean. Anyway it turned out that after a promising start the clouds moved in and the shoot was cancelled. Which turned the weekend into the sort of malaise which inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. It got me thinking about all those films and TVs which deal with weddings. On TV there is rarely a wedding where either the bride, the groom or the vicar doesn’t turn up. If they do it usually means there will be a fight or a dramatic revelation that the Bride/Groom is either a practising bigamist or on the run either from the police or the loonie bin. Films are a little more sophisticated. Or Not!
The 1930s discovered that a good wedding scene should be milked for all its worth. There is no emotion that can’t be wrung out and aired when disparate families are force to be nice to each other for the sake of the kids. There was also a comic element. Best portrayed in the Laurel and Hardy film, Our Wife (1931), when the visually misaligned Ben Turpin accidentally marries Hardy to his best man, Laurel. A man before his time. Charles Laughton played the eponymous role in The Private Life of Henry Vlll (1932) as a rehearsal for the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I loved the scene were he lasciviously ogles his new bride, Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon) while gnawing at a leg of lamb. One appetite satisfied he nonchalantly tosses the bone over his shoulder and grabs his unsullied wife. For the horror fan there is The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) with the Monster, the inimitable Boris Karloff. He gets fed up with being on his lonesome and demands a Bride. Frankenstein delivers Elsa Lancaster and the monster looks forward to a long and happy life of connubial bliss until his bride sees him and has a screaming fit. That brings on one of the Monster signature raging destruction fits and the end of a very short marriage.
The only memorable wedding in the 40’s was in Margaret Lockwood’s, The Wicked Lady (1945). Lockwood played the not so lady-like Lady Skelton and James Mason, Captain Jackson, the besotted highwayman who falls in love with her. Lockwood’s wimpish husband doesn’t know what is going on and is amazed when his fragrant wife turns up in leathers in dying mode. The ’50s has Spencer Tracy on the verge of a breakdown while trying to do the best for his soon to be wed daughter in Father of the Bride (1950). Liz Taylor played the exquisite daughter and Joan Bennet the exasperating mother. When all seems lost Spencer Tracy pulls himself together and wins the day.
If you really want complications they don’t come more tangled than The Bad Sleep Well (1960). The gorgeous Toshiro Mifune is Koichi Nishi who sets out to woo the boss’s crippled daughter. Mission accomplished we are then invited to the Wedding Reception From Hell where we learn that Nishi is not who he says he is but the son of a man the father of the bride caused to commit suicide. Nishi wants to destroy his bride’s family. He is exposed by the bride’s brother who threatens to kill him if he lets his sister down. (well I suppose it beats a string of bad jokes by a drunken best man) As Nishi sets about his sinister plot he makes the fatal error of falling in love with his bride. And…….
The ’70s film, for me was Countess Dracula. The wedding scene might not have been the cutest but it did make you sit up when the Countess, standing at the altar about to marry the love of her dotage, suddenly turns into an ugly old crone and needs a top-up of virgin’s blood before the ceremony can continue. The only available untainted source happens to be her daughter. Then there’s the ultimate Mafia film, The Godfather, 1972. Was there ever a wedding like that? The scene that I remember most is when Don Corleone sits in his den and while the wedding merriment goes on unabated, promises to sort out someone who has hacked off one of the men to whom he has promised his protection. The contrast is so startling and Marlon Brando so urbane and reassuring it is hard to realise what is being promised. The Mafia wedding crops up again and again and is always good for a thrill.
I’ve always loved Goldie Hawn. For me she is one of the all too few really funny actresses. So her wedding to soon to ‘ex’ at the beginning of Private Benjamin (1980) takes a lot of beating. What gets me is how true to life it is. Everybody running around, tempers flying, the father frustrated, the mother hysterical, the bridegroom haunted and the bride nervous and not sure about what is happening. It is all beautifully high lighted in retrospect by what she gets herself into by being bamboozled into joining the army.
The wedding in Goodfellas (1990) of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) to Karen, (Lorraine Bracco) pays its dues to the Godfather wedding – and then some. Like the rest of the film, it shows the Mafia under a much stronger arc-light than the Marlon Brando outing.
Which brings us to the new millennium and 27 Dresses. What went wrong?