The Mating Game is a fun piece of fluff, with your typical uptight guy melting for a rambunctious, outgoing girl. But the details in between the love story make this film far more fun that it should be, 56 years after its release.
Pop (Paul Douglas in his final movie) and Ma (Una Merkel) Larkin are those annoying, quirky neighbors next door that you try to ignore. But Wendell Burnshaw (Philip Ober) has had enough, especially after they borrowed his hog to mate with theirs. So, he decides to put the IRS on the Larkin family farm, where Lorenzo ‘Charlie’ Charlton (Tony Randall) has to figure out how to value their property because they’ve never paid a cent in income tax! Pop and Ma make Charlie’s job impossible, since they are more interested in getting him hitched to their eldest daughter, Mariette (Debbie Reynolds).
Once Charlie arrives at the Larkin farm, the usual outrageous hijinks that take place during a ’50s romantic comedy take place. Someone gets too drunk, someone thinks they accidentally slept with someone, someone gets hurt, there’s a frantic fist fight and, of course, there’s a happy ending.
Directed by the incredibly prolific George Marshall, The Mating Game is a tightly orchestrated comedy that never plays its jokes too long. Since it runs just around 90 minutes – the perfect length for a comedy – opportunities for longer bits are cut short and for the better. The film does feel like it’s missing a song or two, because when Debbie begins asking Tony what type of girl he wants, that feels like the cue for a song. Alas, Debbie never starts singing, so the film highlights her comedic skills. (It also highlights her ability to take punishment. She gets thrown around like a Frisbee in this movie.)
The Mating Game is just the kind of light, humorous comedy to put on when you need a smile. It’s filled with fantastically orchestrated sight gags and surprising performances from Una Merkel and Paul Douglas. While some things are questionable (why is Mariette’s mom OK with her being beaten up by a bunch of guys?), at least the logistics of tax forms don’t get in the way of the fun.