June Bride (1948)
Despite the title, this movie isn’t really about a wedding, at least not in the way you might think. Instead, it’s a surprisingly biting look at a grown-up relationship set against the backdrop of a wedding. And it’s not a normal wedding–a magazine has hijacked the affair and plans to use it as the cover story for the June issue.
To add to the fun, the “June” wedding is actually happening in the winter in order to get it on newsstands in time! Naturally all sorts of complications arise—wedding drama is nothing new.
June Bride premiered at the end of October 1948, not in June as one might expect. It would be like the recent film Mother’s Day appearing in theaters just in time for Labor Day, or this year’s obligatory Christmas film enjoying a star-studded premiere next April.
But today’s nationwide release schedule that flashes a film across thousands of screens on one opening weekend is a relatively recent strategy. As I wrote about here, until the 1970s, movies would premiere in Los Angeles and New York and then slowly trickle into theaters across the country over the next several months and even years. For example, the classic Christmas movie White Christmas (1954) premiered in October, which seems random compared to today’s carefully arranged release schedules. But back then, even if White Christmas had hit Detroit in December, it might not reach Houston until the next May, or vice versa. So people didn’t worry about it.
On second thought, maybe it’s not weird at all that June Bride didn’t premiere in June. Maybe it’s perfect. After all, the movie is about a manufactured “June wedding” where everything is arranged and manipulated for appearance’s sake despite the reality of the situation (abundant greenery is artfully placed in front of the windows to hide the snow outside, for example). So an October release almost fits better than a June one.
Anyway, the movie is drawing on the tradition of “June brides,” a phenomenon so memorably described by undergarment-clad ladies in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954): “For they say when you marry in June, you’re a bride all your life!”
You can read more about the tradition of June brides here and here. (Spoiler alert: the association between weddings and June was more about body odor and family planning around the harvest than anything particularly romantic…)
June Bride was based on a 1944 play called Feature for June written by Eileen Tighe, Graeme Lorimer, and Sarah Lorimer. Tighe was the editor of House and Garden magazine and later edited a huge collection of Woman’s Day cookbooks. It’s not a stretch to say that she based some of the play on her own experiences.
Feature for June was never produced on stage, and a planned musical version never materialized, either. But screenwriter Ranald MacDougall did adapt it into a film that eventually made it to the screen as June Bride starring Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery.
It’s a light comedy, so Davis was not the obvious choice. But she wanted to make a comedy after weeping, dying, and murdering in so many of her previous films (Now, Voyager, The Letter, Dark Victory, The Great Lie, Old Acquaintance, etc.) She was particularly set on a romantic comedy after her last film, a drama called Winter Meeting (1948), didn’t do so well.
Davis originally wanted to star opposite an actor like Jack Carson or Dennis Morgan. Both were under contract at Warner Bros, and though they were popular leading men, they weren’t quite on Davis’ superstar level. Morgan had already played a similar role in Christmas in Connecticut (1945) opposite Barbara Stanwyck, a movie that has a lot in common with June Bride. (In fact, Stanwyck would have been great for this part, and I would have liked to see Ginger Rogers or Myrna Loy tackle it, too.) Perhaps Davis wanted a slightly more malleable co-star who had proved himself in light romantic comedies.
But Warner Bros. producer Henry Blanke and June Bride‘s director Bretaigne Windust (what a name!) suggested Robert Montgomery. They thought that he was a bigger box office draw than Carson or Morgan, and they had another reason for preferring Montgomery (though they didn’t tell Davis.)
Blanke and Windust apparently pushed for Montgomery because they thought that he was a better fit for Davis age-wise. Montgomery was 44 and Davis was 40 when they made this film, and the goal was to make their romance believable and pretty.
Perhaps Warner Bros. was afraid that the fresher-faced Morgan or Carson would look too young romancing Davis. (Though naturally this concern rarely goes the other way–read my History Through Hollywood: Love on the prevalence of onscreen romances between old actors/young actresses.)
You can judge for yourself, but the general consensus is that Blanke and Windust’s strategy didn’t quite pan out. Montgomery seems to play up his sparkling, mischievous persona with even more youthful gusto than normal, and Davis, grand actress though she was, comes off a bit stiff and too mature for the romance. One might think that Davis was several years older than Montgomery, not the other way around.
Unfortunately, the co-stars didn’t get along very well, which turned this romantic comedy into a battle of wills between two veteran actors with very different styles. Montgomery didn’t seem to mind if he made Davis look older, and they both tried to pull rank during filming to get their way. Montgomery had far more experience with comedy than Davis did, and he enjoyed flinging barbs like this her way: “Bette, my dear, this is not the court of Queen Elizabeth and certainly not the castle of Lady Macbeth.” I’m sure Davis just loved that!
To the film! We open with Carey Jackson (Robert Montgomery, whose daughter Elizabeth would gain fame as Samantha in Bewitched) arriving at the New York offices of a publishing company. He’s been working as a foreign correspondent in Europe for years, most recently in Vienna. But with the close of WWII, his newspaper has begun shutting down their extensive overseas operations.
Carey meets with the boss Carleton Towne (Jerome Cowan) and gets the bad news: the Vienna office is closing, and Carey is out of a job. But there is a job available for Carey at one of the publisher’s magazines if he wants it.
Unfortunately, it’s a woman’s magazine called Home Life, not exactly Carey’s type of hard-hitting investigative journalism. But a job is a job, and it all becomes more interesting when Carey learns that his old flame Linda Gilman is the editor of Home Life.
We learn that Linda (Bette Davis) is a tough boss who can barely keep writers on staff because she is so demanding. But Carey ain’t scared! He knew her when she was just starting out, and he’s curious to see her again.
He approaches her cautiously, and with good reason. They used to be a couple, but he disappeared without saying goodbye one night in 1945. He had the chance to go to Berlin on assignment and took off without even canceling their dinner date. She hasn’t heard from him since.
Costume appreciation break. Edith Head designed Davis’ wardrobe for this film, and it’s packed with sharply tailored, flattering suits and eye-catching jewelry, exactly what you’d think a sophisticated magazine editor like Linda would wear. Edith Head worked at Paramount, but Davis and the Warner Bros. costume designer Orry-Kelly didn’t get along very well by this point in Davis’ career.
Reportedly, Davis first worked with Head when the designer accompanied Davis on a shopping trip to brainstorm for Winter Meeting. Davis liked Head and her design philosophy, and the star asked Warner Bros. to hire Head to make her costumes for June Bride and several future projects. Head would also design the iconic looks sported by Davis in All About Eve (1950).
Back to the film. Linda is self-possessed, smart, and shrewd. She’s certainly surprised to see Carey, but she doesn’t let his appearance throw her. She’s quick to announce that she hasn’t been pining for him in the years since they’ve seen each other. She has completely moved on from any heartache she might have suffered. But she can’t resist a few barbs:
Although Linda claims to have forgiven and forgotten Carey, she’s furious when she learns that he has been offered a job at her magazine. She calls Towne for confirmation and keeps glaring at Carey. Her dismay is not due solely to their complicated personal history. Linda knows that Carey won’t be happy nor particularly committed to Home Life. He is certain to find the work silly (it’s a typical woman’s magazine akin to Martha Stewart Living or Good Housekeeping), and Linda is afraid that Carey will harm the magazine’s mission. He won’t be content to write features about weddings or new ways to celebrate Thanksgiving, and he definitely doesn’t respect nor appreciate fashion, housekeeping, or recipes.
As Linda struggles to control her irritation, Carey grins and cracks jokes with that Montgomery twinkle. I enjoy watching him because there is constant amusement lurking just below the surface. He seems to sport a permanently quirked eyebrow as though whatever he is looking at strikes him as slightly ridiculous.
Anyway, Linda and Carey go out on the town in an effort to repair the past and start their new, purely professional relationship. But Carey seems intent on rekindling their love affair. He keeps mixing cocktails and turning off the lights, but Linda sips slowly and switches the lamps back on. She’s not having any of it! Unfortunately, Davis seems more like an irritated mother frustrated with a mischievous child than a possible romantic partner amused by her lover’s antics.
Over cocktails in Linda’s splendid midcentury apartment, they discuss what went wrong with their love. It’s an old story: he was a wandering reporter who was happiest when he was on the trail of a story somewhere far from home. And she was a woman in search of a career (horrors!) who needed more commitment. He skedaddled without warning three years ago because he suddenly wanted to marry her and settle down. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to make that last, so he got out of there as fast as he could.
But mostly the problem was that she wanted a career. Warning: this movie really hits that point hard. For example, Carey tells Linda, “I’m allergic to career women.” And he says that if he ever did settle down, it would be with a woman who doesn’t have anything else to do besides take care of him. He explains that his mother had a career and he didn’t like it because he wanted her undivided attention. Yuck.
Rather than fight him on this nasty viewpoint, Linda tells him that she understands perfectly and has moved on. Her career is extremely important to her, and she recognizes that she wouldn’t be happy following him around “two paces behind, carrying his suitcases” as he crossed the globe in search of a story. They’re fundamentally incompatible, but she’s fine with it! And she’s very happy with her life.
Naturally, her happiness disappoints Carey. He had rather hoped that she would be waiting to drop everything to be his wife. But for now he has to be content to work as her employee, which is definitely a blow to his fragile male ego!
The next day, Linda has a hangover. Her right-hand-woman, Paula (Fay Bainter) is a little worried because she knows all about Linda’s history with Carey. But Linda insists that everything is fine. Besides, they have work to do!
Linda calls a meeting to update her staff on June’s cover story, a real-life wedding between Jeanne Brinker and Bud Mitchell in a small town in Indiana. The gang is heading there the next day to arrange a perfect “June wedding,” despite the fact that it’s the middle of winter!
The season is just one of many things that are going to be changed. Home Life isn’t just going to photograph the Brinker wedding; they are in charge of organizing the whole thing. They plan to renovate and redecorate the house and “improve” the family, thus transforming the Brinker nuptials into a stylish, all-American June wedding perfect enough to grace the pages of Home Life!
This scene is amusing because the jaded magazine staff discuss the wedding issue in cynical terms that sound very modern. For instance, they don’t really care about the Brinker family and only chose them because Mrs. Brinker has been an avid reader of Home Life for years and contacted them about her daughter’s nuptials.
But that doesn’t keep Linda and her employees from kindly insulting the Brinkers throughout the film. The staff bemoans the state of the crowded, old-fashioned Brinker home where the wedding will take place, and they are equally horrified by the habits and style of the unsophisticated, small-town “folks” they are tasked with making magazine-ready.
It’s a big undertaking, but it seems normal for the Home Life staff. For example, when Linda tells Paula that she will need to put Mrs. Brinker on a diet before the wedding, Paula sighs and says, “Don’t I always…” And Rosemary (Mary Wickes), who is in charge of outfitting the family in new clothes, is worried that the Brinkers’ wardrobes will need to be completely overhauled. She condescendingly asks, “Have they heard of the New Look in Indiana?” “You’d be surprised,” answers Linda. (To her credit, Linda is kind and a bit less dismissive of the Brinkers than some of her staff.)
Sidenote: the “New Look” was introduced by Dior in February 1947. It featured a return to tiny waists, full skirts, and busty silhouettes after the more austere style of the war years. It was a fashion revolution, and contemporary audiences would have known what Rosemary was talking about in this scene.
One of the things that I like about this movie is the fairly honest look at the machinations that go into a “perfect” magazine feature or event. Sometimes it seems as though manufacturing a Martha Stewart-worthy wedding is a recent phenomenon, or that people in the past were innocent and wholesome and never fudged reality in order to present a more flattering version of themselves. The methods may have changed (they didn’t have Photoshop or social media), but people haven’t. The impossibly beautiful, perfect wedding or holiday dinner you see in your magazine has never been the whole story!
Anyway, after the meeting the staff gets to work crafting a lovely article celebrating family, love, and small town life, even if they have to invent most of it…
Carey and Linda fly to Indiana together and we get a great look at air travel in 1948. The flight attendant is always in view helping people get comfortable and asking if they’d like their lunch now or later! So civilized.
And look at Linda’s huge embroidered handkerchief! Fanciest name tag I’ve ever seen.
The pair arrives in snowy Indiana and Linda begs Carey to take the assignment seriously. She’s afraid that he is going to try to find some “angle” that will turn their joyful wedding story into something a little more hard hitting. She doesn’t want him to ruin the months of work that the Home Life team has already poured into this feature. He promises to behave. But his eyes are twinkling…
The Brinkers welcome Linda and Carey to their home. Linda has already spent time with the family on scouting missions, so she walks Carey through what they plan to do for the wedding. She also tries to keep him away from the beautiful bride, nineteen-year-old Jeanne Brinker (Barbara Bates). She knows him well.
But of course Carey stumbles onto an “angle” as soon as Linda leaves his side. Jeanne’s sister, Barbara “Boo” (Betty Lynn) is a spunky tomboy who is secretly in love with Jeanne’s fiancé, Bud (Raymond Roe). And Boo is pretty sure that Jeanne is still hung up on Bud’s brother, Jim. (Complicated!) Boo tells Carey that Jeanne and Jim were engaged once, but then Jim went away to the Army. He decided to stay in after the War ended, and Jeanne got tired of waiting. So she transferred her attentions to Bud, instead.
Carey is terribly excited to hear about this love rectangle, and he wonders aloud about calling a friend in the Army Public Relations Office and getting Jim sent home in time for the wedding. Devious!
But he decides not to place the call because he doesn’t want to ruin things for Linda. Maybe he’s not such a selfish guy, after all.
What he doesn’t realize is that Boo likes his idea and calls the Public Relations Office herself. She pretends to be Carey’s secretary and sets his plan in motion even though he doesn’t know it!
Meanwhile, Linda and Jeanne have a chat about the wedding, and then Linda and Boo bond over being independent women who don’t need men. Boo is very curious about Linda the single career woman, and she thinks that such a life might be good for her, especially if Jeanne ends up marrying Bud.
That evening, Linda and Carey accompany the Brinker family to a good old-fashioned Indiana party. But Carey has been sneaking Mr. Brinker’s (Tom Tully) deceptively powerful homemade cider all afternoon, so he is drunk by the time they leave the house. Montgomery plays comically inebriated very well. He’s got an excellent sway and a fantastic face plant.
You can watch the scene here:
Carey wakes up after the party in a wagon next to a prize piglet. Apparently he won the hog-calling contest but he can’t remember a thing.
He and Linda are the chaperones for a bunch of amorous teens, but once the kids leave, Carey begins some romancing of his own. He really wants to win Linda back, though we’re not sure why. They seemed awfully incompatible, and he seems to drive her absolutely crazy. And not in a good way.
But there has to be romance! Or maybe it is just too cold not to snuggle.
The next day, this conflicted couple’s very real problems have disappeared. Apparently all one needs is a wagon ride in the moonlight to resolve fundamental, philosophical differences.
But the behind-the-scenes tension wasn’t so easily fixed. Davis claimed that Montgomery purposefully invalidated footage: her close ups were filmed first, and apparently Montgomery often introduced different reactions in his close ups which made the footage of the two stars difficult to cut together. For instance, he might react as though she had said something funny when in fact it was supposed to be a serious moment, and thus make her original shots unusable. I wouldn’t dare mess with Bette Davis, but Montgomery seemed to enjoy it!
Anyway, the rest of the magazine staff arrive (they took a train) and are dismayed by the state of the house and the Brinker family. They have a week to turn this outdated house and its inhabitants into a story fit for the cover of Home Life.
Rosemary gets some good lines in about the unsatisfactory house, such as “How can I convert this McKinley stinker into a Dewey modern?”
Well, that may have been a good line in 1948, but it needs a little elucidation now. Rosemary is insulting the turn-of-the-century home with her crack about McKinley who was president from 1897-1901. Her reference to Dewey is a more topical jab: this film was shot in the months before the 1948 presidential election between President Truman and Thomas Dewey. All the polls said that the Republican Dewey would triumph, but Truman pulled a wild upset. (You know the photo of the President with the false headline).
Although everyone thought that Dewey would win, Warner Bros. shot two versions of this scene just in case: one in which Rosemary mentioned the “Dewey modern” and one in which it was a “Truman modern.” When Truman triumphed, the studio quickly replaced the “Dewey” scene and rushed the print with “Truman” into theaters. The original line has been restored in modern versions.
The election did more than influence that one line, though. Davis and Montgomery were on opposite sides of the political spectrum: Davis supported Truman, and Montgomery ran the Hollywood Republican Committee working for Dewey’s election. Their political friction only added to the tension during filming. This movie was in production in May-July 1948, and opened three days before the nation went to the polls on November 2. But Davis got the last laugh by sending Montgomery a telegram about his candidate’s defeat.
Back to the film! Poor Mrs. Brinker (Marjorie Bennett) is put on a strict diet and gets daily massages to slim down. I’m not sure how much they think they can change in a week, but that’s their problem.
Look at Linda’s terrifying hand buttons on her blouse! There are so many severed hand accessories in movies from the 1930s and 1940s. My favorite is the “hand-clasp,” (at least she was engaged before her murder, right?) on the bathing suit in The Women (1939). They were very trendy, but I think they’re macabre.
Meanwhile, the house is dismantled, repainted, and rearranged with new curtains and furnishings. Basically, Home Life is going to change everything about the house and the family but pretend that they didn’t. It’s all very insulting to the Brinkers, but they seem delighted with the chance to be in Home Life, so whatever.
Until the arrival of a certain soldier…
Jim (Ray Montgomery), the groom’s brother whom Carey thought about sending for and Boo actually did, shows up at the house. Things go about as poorly as possible for Home Life: Jeanne ends up chasing Jim out into the snow–she still loves him! Linda assumes that Carey arranged all of this, and she is furious. Carey is mad at Boo and spanks her, and Rosemary just keeps cutting the sofa in half.
All romance is at an end for Linda and Carey. In fact, they are barely speaking. But the staff continues preparing for the wedding even though they haven’t heard from Jeanne or Jim since the couple ran away. But it’s not looking good. Rosemary begins drinking more and more “jasmine tea” (rum), explaining “If you think I can do without my jasmine while we convert from McKinley to Truman you’re out of your socket.” So topical!
Carey tracks down Jim and Jeanne and learns that they eloped. The wedding is off! Linda fires Carey for ruining their June feature even though he tries to tell her that he might have a new, better story for her (Boo and Bud). But she won’t listen.
Carey doesn’t give up, though. He tells Boo that he will pretend to be interested in her to make Bud jealous. So Boo puts on one of Jeanne’s slinky dresses and invites Bud over to the house. Then Carey and Jeanne flirt and coo, and Carey tells Bud that he wants to marry her. The plan works!
In about five minutes, Bud proposes to Boo, which makes this lightning fast even by Old Hollywood standards.
Linda restarts the wedding preparations immediately, and no one seems to worry that Boo is seventeen and the groom had been planning to marry her sister up until that morning…
Linda re-hires Carey to write a new story, not realizing that he has already finished the Boo-Bud article. He’d been writing it all along. But she is too busy to look at his work, and she doesn’t even notice when he quietly leaves the house and returns to New York.
The parlor is beautifully decorated and ready for a wedding (as I wrote about in History Through Hollywood: Love, it was very common to be married at home.)
The wedding begins and Linda finally notices that Carey is gone. She panics because he was supposed to write the article, but Rosemary hands her the pages that Carey left the day that Bud and Boo got engaged.
The fact that he didn’t behave like a complete jerk makes her a little emotional during the wedding.
I love the shot of the wedding on the left and Linda with Carey’s story on the right. Instead of a man, she holds an article in her right hand. She is literally and symbolically separated from the “joys of marriage” by her “work.” It’s nicely done, visually, but kind of gross, too. It certainly underlines the point the movie is making: surely Linda can’t be happy just being a successful magazine editor! She needs a man!
The scene is surprisingly moving because we have spent the entire film showing how this “June wedding” is a manufactured event designed to sell magazines. And because the couple getting hitched aren’t the original pair, and we’ve seen the messiness and complications that went into this picture-perfect moment. But that’s weddings for you!
But this will be one of the last issues that Linda will oversee. She heads to Towne’s office to tell him that she is resigning. She wants to find Carey and see if he will take her back.
She tells Carey that she wants to marry him, and she is ready to give up her career if that is what he wants. Then she picks up his suitcases and says that she will follow him wherever his wanderings take him. The globe next to Carey is a nice visual reminder of his fondness for world travels.
He accepts Linda’s offer, and we are supposed to rejoice at this happy ending as “The End” appears on the screen.
But it’s hard to, for obvious reasons. I can’t imagine that Linda will be happy on this path for very long, and it doesn’t seem quite fair that Carey didn’t have to make any compromises at all but Linda was expected to give up everything. But that’s a 1948 romantic comedy for you!
Of course, you can make it a little more nuanced if you want because the movie doesn’t seem to fully endorse the love story. The ending feels tacked on and simplistic after we’ve spent so much time admiring Linda and her staff and rooting for their success. And Carey and Linda didn’t seem to work as a couple even during their brief happy moments, and the idea that Linda could really be happy following Carey around doesn’t make sense. I don’t think that’s just because it’s 2016, either. I would guess that even contemporary audiences would have sensed something a little off about the relationship and the unsatisfying ending.
This film did well at the box office and critics generally enjoyed it, too. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it a “delightful vehicle” for Davis and Montgomery, and “Naturally, starring two such people, it is a sophisticated thing, largely dependent for its humors upon a complex of wry attitudes…But it if also a pretty solid story of good old home-town folks, never too soggy with sentiment and just a shade satiric around the edge.”
The critic wrote:
Maybe we owe our fullest tributes to Ranald MacDougall, who wrote the script…Certainly Mr. MacDougall has written some urbane dialogue which has more bounce and bubble in it than any we’ve recently heard. Maybe we owe Bretaigne Windust our particular votes of thanks for a fine job of volatile directing, even though he does lean toward lengthy walk-talk scenes.
Maybe we owe Miss Davis and Mr. Montgomery our special gratitude for playing a couple of smart worldlings with a lovely talent for the comic touch, for timing a line or a gesture to the micrometric dot—especially Mr. Montgomery, who has one superior passage in his cups. Or maybe we should toss our sweetest bouquets to Tom Tully, Betty Lynn, Barbara Bates and a whole cast of capable actors who play some delicious minor roles. But this isn’t a case where special mentions should be too specifically indulged. Everybody concerned does a grand job to make Warner’s ‘June Bride’ a current job.
On August 29, 1949, Davis reprised her role as Linda for a Lux Radio Theatre version of June Bride opposite James Stewart. Lux broadcast June Bride again on December 28, 1953 starring Irene Dunne and Fred MacMurray, and then produced a Lux Video Theatre telecast in 1955 with Marguerite Chapman and Jerome Thor in the lead roles.