Book Review: Ma and Pa Kettle on Film

book review james l. neibaur ma and pa kettle

Reposted with permission by James L. Neibaur

If ever a movie series demanded a book of its own, it is Ma and Pa Kettle. And it's especially grand that Lon and Debra Davis have chosen the project for BearManor Media.

 

This reviewer once held a free weekly film series for his townspeople at a downtown coffee shop. The bonafide classics of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and W.C. Fields were well attended and enjoyed, but when I would show a Ma and Pa Kettle film, the place was so packed we worried the fire marshall would happen by and shut us down. This happened during the 21st century, proving that the series has lasting appeal.

 

With their book, Lon and Debra work very hard to not only celebrate the series, but also to tap into its timeless popularity. They discuss its history, with Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride introducing the characters in The Egg and I with Fred MacMurray. They examine each film in the subsequent series. They offer fascinating information about each movie, not only the credits and plot, but also capsule bios of the supporting players (some of whom played recurring roles throughout the series), and background info including box office status. Some of the more interesting info comes toward the end. I did not realize the last film with Percy Kilbride, Ma and Pa Kettle in Waikiki, was actually filmed earlier but released last. Kilbride retired and Marjorie Main continued for two more unsuccessful films before she also retired, ending the series.

Throughout the book, one learns a great deal about each movie, discovering how consistently popular the films were, and understanding each movie’s specific appeal, due to the research and assessment of the authors. They explain why the rural comedy these bucolic characters has maintained interest. Each chapter is filled with fascinating and enlightening information.

I was reminded about the Walter Lantz-produced Maw and Paw cartoons based on the Kettle series, but was surprised to learn that in 1964 a TV series with Patsy Kelly and Andy Devine was considered. I was saddened to read about Percy Kilbride’s sudden death and Marjorie Main’s tearful reaction. And I was reminded of Main’s final TV appearance shortly before she passed away.

The Ma and Pa Kettle films offer an oddly wholesome, delightfully corny brand of comedy with beloved characters in amusing situations. Even the more formulaic films are delightful fun. Kudos to Lon and Debra Davis for undertaking a book project on this series, and making it a thorough and definitive study. Most highly recommended.

The book is available at this link from BearManor Media: Kettles.


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