Love Nest Fun, but Showing Its Age
By Kristin Battestella
Though it’s early in her career, the promise of Love Nest’s Marilyn Monroe hijinks mixed with misunderstandings of the writer’s life was too intriguing not to take a gander. Datedness and misdirection, however, hamper much of the fun.
World War II Veteran Jim Scott (William Lundigan) is happy to return home to his wife Connie (June Haver). Even though they have to make do living in the basement of their townhouse while they rent the apartments above, the income gives Jim a chance to write that Great American Novel he has been dreaming of in the trenches. Quirky tenants like the widow Eadie Gaynor (Leatrice Joy, The Blue Danube) and perpetually leaky sink Mrs. Quigg (Marie Blake, The Addams Family) are a handful, as is charming philanderer and conman Charley Patterson (Frank Fay). However, when former army driver Bobbie- err Roberta Stevens (Monroe) moves into the Scotts’ nest egg, things get a little more interesting.
Director Joseph Newman (This Island Earth) and screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond (Some Like it Hot, The Apartment) have a tough job in balancing the silly romance shenanigans with melodramatic money and household troubles. While they struggle with those two opposite ends, the fun fifties innuendo does mix well with the obligatory Leave it to Beaver innocence. There are all kinds of implied kinky pillow talk of getting reacquainted post war- and yet the Scotts have separate beds! Love Nest is also a little slow to start, taking its time in getting to the critical events in the last half hour. Honestly, some of the financial talk is also a little depressing. Good God, $300 in the bank is a lot to these folks, and $4,000 is the full mortgage? Wow! I was also a little disappointed in the onscreen writerly aspects, which was one of my initial draws to the movie. Jim sits at his typewriter from time to time and it’s this phantom writing that ends up saving the day ninety minutes later, big whoop. Love Nest is sadly stuck between not being as funny as it should be or as seriously old school angsty as it could be. Either be slapstick or have saucy drama- you can’t be somewhere in between.
Thankfully, William Lundigan (Dodge City, The Sea Hawk) and June Haver (The Dolly Sisters, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! – another very early, very briefly Monroe picture.) make a nice couple as Jim and Connie, even if they are a little too much like every other fifties couple ever onscreen. Unfortunately, again its the script fails them. So, they have landlord repairs and money trouble like everyone else? Big deal. Why should we care if they fight over it? Why should Jim have to sleep outside in a hammock if they have separate beds?! Despite my complaints, they are likeable and entertaining simply because their relationship is so down right wholesome and dare I say wishful thinking to today’s often cynical view on relationships. Jack Paar (The Jack Paar Tonight Show) as Jim’s cheeky lawyer and ladies man Ed Forbes also deserved a lot more to do- again as either the wicked lothario or the slapstick pal, not just the guy who brings over the champagne as needed. Fortunately, Frank Fay (Bright Lights, The Matrimonial Bed) picks up the slack with his lovely turn as crook with a heart Charley. He’s the man with an angle, all the worldly charms, and he’s always ready with the right sweet remark. A good bit of that taboo innuendo is also snuck into his speech, both kinky for the ladies and even a little subtext on the handsome men. Despite the subject matter the title suggests, Fay is as juicy as Love Nest gets, and his true designs are largely played as off screen mystery.
But of course, the real reason one takes any interest in Love Nest today and can so readily find the film is my sister’s favorite icon, Marilyn Monroe. Here, pre-How to Marry a Millionaire and Some Like It Hot, Monroe doesn’t have a whole lot to do beyond being the would be femme antagonist. Her voice is a little untrained, and it is somewhat tough to picture her as a WAC- that’s Women’s Army Corps for you really young pups! However, the mistaken set up of the very buxom Bobbie moving in upstairs and causing a bit of jealously is right up Monroe’s alley. Even this early on, someone had the good sense to put Monroe in a then scandalous two-piece bathing suit and sent her outside tanning. Next, she’s donning nothing but a towel when getting out of the shower! Monroe isn’t actually in the picture all that much. Pity as that is, it’s also great to see her in the forties styled fitted dress suits instead of flashy colorful fifties satins to come. Although she wasn’t a star yet, Love Nest again faults because its focus is not the juicy of Monroe or the fun con of Patterson. Jim and Connie’s house troubles are a little boring compared to the fun possibilities that come into the film with Monroe a little too late.
Naturally, fans of fifties stylings can find what they are looking for here. Despite being black and white, the old-fashioned patterns and curtains are neat to see. The period cars, netted hats, calling cards, and sweet typewriters are all a sight of antique and fashion aficionados. Women needing to wear gloves and pillbox hats to go shopping? In a grocery store? And my goodness, there’s a boat load of irony in these post war folks thinking letter writing is a lost art! While the hindrances of what could be said and done onscreen condemned Love Nest to its uneven story and pacing, a mid century connoisseur can find plenty of charm. Yes, these same things seriously show the film’s imperfect points and show its age. However, fans of the cast and wholesome fifties capers can still enjoy the good-hearted sentiment here.
Love Nest can be found for rent or affordably in several Marilyn Monroe editions. The subtitles are magical in studying the colloquialisms of the time, but the only other features are a commentary and the obligatory Monroe previews and trailers. Though flawed, the right audience or classics fan can find plenty of fun with Love Nest.