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Are You Ready for Marriage? was produced to stem the epidemic of youthful, impetuous, and unsuccessful marriages following World War II. The Coronet catalog entry for the film reads: “A very young couple have just about decided to elope since the girl’s parents object to the marriage. However, they first decide to talk over their problem with the marriage counselor at the church. During this talk they find that they really don't know too much about each other, and the counselor suggests that they should ask themselves some questions before getting too serious. Questions like ‘do they have similar backgrounds?,’ ‘are they real friends?,’ and ‘do they understand marriage?’ He also stresses that when people are ready for marriage, they sense a new feeling between them-a feeling of paired unity. In conversation, ‘I’ changes to ‘we.’ “
The film begins with a long, slow kiss on the porch, an unusually intimate moment for an educational film. Things rapidly change, though, when Sue’s parents forbid her engagement to Larry. Led by Mr. Hall, the minister/counselor, Sue a Larry quickly learn that there’s more to marriage than mere sexual attraction-“boing!” Mr. Hall uses the Marriage Development board, an awkward but compelling visual aid featuring little dolls linked by rubber bands, to illustrate the concepts of “psychological distance” and “emotional makeup.” Fascinating graphs emerge from the edges of this apparatus illustrating marital success as it relates to age before marriage and length of engagement. Cupid’s checklist, which in one form or another shows up in most American premarital training literature, asks whether the couple comes from similar backgrounds, whether they are real friends, and whether they understand marriage. The temptation for us to rate ourselves on these scales, even if we fail, is irresistible.
Time hasn't been friendly to this film, but its out-datedness makes it amusing and fascinating to watch. The teenage actors squirm and whine in their unrealizable passion, and Mr. Hall lectures them at some length. There is a great deal of talk in this film, probably because it strove to bring sex- and love-crazed teenagers back into the grown-up, logocentric world of reason, and Mr. Hall pursues the praiseworthy goal of getting Sue and Larry to talk about things that matter. “No difference of opinion?” he asks. “Or no opinion?” With little subtlety, the film also raises the issue of “correct” gender roles. It’s all one way or another, as Sue explains: “But I don't want a girl … I want a man, like Larry.” The ending is happy. Sue and Larry, “engaged to be engaged,” realize they now have more than “boing” going for them.
There’s a wealth of good advice in Are You Ready for Marriage?, but it seems pitifully naive next to training films for slightly older people (This Charming Couple and Who’s Boss, for instance, focus on the arbitration of power relations in marriage). Aside from Sue’s parents’ insistence that she get at least some college education, Are You Ready for Marriage? does not anticipate much of the heavy stuff that serious couples inevitably experience, perhaps in order not to frighten teens away from marriage altogether. Yet, by stressing resolution of key issues prior to marriage and ignoring those that emerge later on, the film suggests that social contradictions somehow dissolve on wedding day. And of course, there is no real consideration of how society dictates different roles for men and women within the confines of matrimony.
Are You Ready for Marriage? manages to be simultaneously touching and annoying. It is a film about acceptance and submission. Sue and Larry learn on their own to accept society’s conventional wisdom. No one could accuse the authorities behind films like these of serving their own interests-the films really were “for the good of the children.” But even if the advice is correct, does the survival of our culture require children to accept the dictates of their counselors and parents with so little imagination? We survived the sixties, when all rules seemed up for grabs, but have we truly gotten the fifties, with its complexes of obedience and its deference to authority, out of our systems?
From Educational Screen, September 1950: “The evaluating group felt that the film should be very effective on the high school level both in group and individual counseling. In addition to its effectiveness in high school guidance situations, the film should also be useful in extra-school young people’s organizations, as well as teacher and parent study groups. The producers are to be complimented on creating an atmosphere of life-like situations. The film skillfully avoids stereotyped characters, stale and trite expressions, and unnaturalness."