Starring Molly Bee, Alan Reed Jr., Irene Hervey, and Bill Goodwin
My rating: ★1/2 stars
Twee tale of married teenage sweethearts plays like a sitcom.
I love these silly, little movies from the 1950s, not because they’re good—they’re not—but because they provide an interesting historical document, not of what life was like at the time, but of what the ideal vision of life was. Here, that life is suburban, middle class, patriarchal, and mind-numbingly pleasant.
In Going Steady, nice girl Julie Ann Turner (Molly Bee) elopes with her squeaky clean boyfriend Calvin Potter (Alan Reed Jr.) during a school trip to a basketball game. Coming home, the couple realizes that they’ll have to deal with their possibly less-than-accepting families, especially Julie Ann’s curmudgeonly father (Bill Goodwin), who dislikes Calvin and remains convinced of Calvin’s complete incompetence as a human being.
The outward conflict in the film between Mr. Turner and Calvin soon gives way to a deeper one. Julie Ann refuses to leave the protection of her parents’ home and guidance and refuses to take adult responsibilities. Mr. Turner, likewise, feels the young couple are incapable of living on their own and making their way in the world and seeks to direct every aspect of their lives. Calvin, however, desires to be his own man, choose his own profession, and set up his own household. He’s supported by Mrs. Turner (Irene Hervey), who frets that Mr. Turner’s meddling will drive a wedge between the young couple.
Calvin’s goals are not wildly ambitious. While Mr. Turner, the owner of a hardware store, wants to bring Calvin into the family business, Calvin dislikes hardware and wants to pursue his ambition to sell insurance. The film makes a big deal out of the idea of the “self-made man.” Mr. Turner built his hardware business from nothing, and his wife points out that he’s preventing Calvin from achieving full adulthood by not letting him start with nothing to make his own way in the world. There is no mention of Julie Ann contributing to the family finances even though one scene shows that her grades are significantly better than Calvin’s. For her, preparation for adulthood involves learning to cook and keep house.
At the end of the film, the graduation speaker, whom the script goes out of the way to describe as a “self-made man,” gives a speech on the importance of young people breaking away from their parents and achieving their own success—the cliché of having the graduation speech comment on the story probably was less hackneyed back in 1958. However, the scene proves incredibly boring. Not surprisingly, some guy giving a speech isn’t an electrifying screen moment, unless that guy is Henry V or General Patton, not the fictional head of an insurance company. And, with his help, faster than you can say “deus ex machina,” all the couple’s problems are solved.
The tone of the film reflects that of a 1950s-1960s sitcom, and the humor suffers from the lack of a laugh track. Many of the jokes derive from Goodwin grumbling one-liners or mugging to the audience, almost like a proto-Norman Fell of Three’s Company. Reed Jr. provides some limited gawky appeal, and Hervey gives a performance reminiscent of the typical sitcom mom of that era. Country singer Bee is the weakest link. Her line delivery is overly bright and amateurishly mannered, suggesting that she was ill-prepared to move into acting. She does have an interesting gait that allows her ponytail to bounce perfectly from side to side as she walks. Ken Miller and Susan Easter as Calvin’s and Julie Ann’s sidekicks offer typical sitcomesque wacky humor.
Some of the jokes are actually funny. Some of the jokes are so corny that they become funny—we can laugh at them instead of with them. There are worse ways to spend 80 minutes. If anything the movie is too hopelessly cheerful and pleasant. It seeks to present a fantasy world where all problems can be solved if people just embrace wholesome, bourgeois values. Going Steady presents the kind of world that people imagine when they say they want to go back to a simpler time like the 1950s. It’s a reflection of the way we never were, an idealized vision of the way people thought that we should be.