Mary Brian … Judith Wheater
Fredric March … Martin Boyne
Lilyan Tashman … Joyce Wheater
Huntley Gordon … Cliff Wheater
Kay Francis … Lady Wrench
William Austin … Lord Wrench
Seena Owen … Rose Sellers
Philippe De Lacy … Terry Wheater
Anita Louise … Blanca Wheater
Mitzi Green … Zinnie Wheater
Billy Seay … Bun Wheater
Ruby Parsley … Beatrice Wheater
Donald Smith … Chip Wheater
Directed by Lothar Mendes.
Based on “The Children,” a novel by Edith Wharton.
Screenplay by J. Walter Ruben.
Dialogue by Doris Anderson.
Camera by Victor Milner.
A Paramount Picture.
Released December 13, 1929.
About the film: After a handful of films for Paramount, it was unclear to the film industry to know what exactly the studio was doing with Kay Francis. Was she being groomed for stardom or supporting player status? The Marriage Playground seemed to convince the world it was the latter.
Two projects that Kay had been announced for after completing Illusion fell through. Those were The Genius, in which Kay was to play a vamp who sinks her teeth into a young musician, and Youth Has Its Fling. Instead, Kay was cast as a vamp named Zinnia La Crosse in the film version of The Children, a novel from Edith Wharton re-titled, The Marriage Playground.
Surprisingly, despite the handsome Fredric March as the leading man and virginal Mary Brian, it was Kay and Lilyan Tashman who stole the show from its players. Hyped as major fashion rivals only a few months earlier when Kay came to Paramount, the studio made sure to give off the vibe that there was “something” between the Francis/Tashman teaming. At the climax of the movie, the two have it out over showing up to a society event in the same outfit.
Later, in 1931, the two would be teamed again, not as rival but this time as best friends, in Girls About Town, directed by George Cukor.
The Marriage Playground was also one of the first movies for Fredric March, a fresh face on the Paramount lot himself but clearly already groomed for leading man status. In The Films of Fredric March, author Lawrence Quirk wrote, “The critics were, for the most part, kind, and March came in for a goodly share of praise…Kay Francis was also along for the ride, though this was before her top-liner days, and her role, while displaying her attractively, was essentially peripheral.”
March followed The Marriage Playground up with Sarah and Son (1930), a Ruth Chatterton mega-hit which mirrored the long-suffering mother roles which Kay later acquired herself at Warner Bros.
Anita Louise, who later became a very popular supporting actor in films such as Marie Antoinette (1938), later worked with Kay in My Bill, playing her ungrateful daughter.
As for Kay Francis, she went onto better films, of course. But Wharton’s novels was revived again for the screen in 1990 shot under the original title and starred Kim Novak, among others.
By Mordaunt Hall. Published December 14, 1929 in the New York Times.
Edith Wharton’s novel, “The Children,” has come to the Paramount in audible film form under the title of “The Marriage Playground.” Although it has spasmodic lapses and the youngsters are a trifle too precocious, even for this generation, it is quite an intelligent production with well-woven strands of humor and sympathy, pathos and an appealing romance. The brunt of the acting falls on Frederic March and Mary Brian, who are thoroughly believable in their rôles.
This offering was directed by Lothar Mendes, who would have embellished his scenes considerably had he not photographed all of them within the studio doors. It is far more effective to see the real sunshine, the real sands, with a real breeze fanning a seaside resort, such as the Lido, rather than to gaze upon an obviously artificially lighted patch of sand with a sky that is all too near. Mr. Mendes, however, has done far better by this tale of quarreling parents and their mixed brood than he has with other pictures. He has succeeded in eliciting a diversity of natures from the seven youngsters, the oldest of whom is Judith Wheater, played by Mary Brian. If one thinks that these children are exaggerated types, one may ponder that it may after all be the result of their upbringing and the reckless conduct of their parents. Mr. and Mrs. Wheater have been divorced and re-married to each other. The seven neglected offsprings have different parents, but they all love each other and do not want to be separated.
Judith, with the help of a faithful nurse, Miss Scopy, cares for the six boys, girls and an infant. Mr. and Mrs. Wheater’s second marriage is far from happy and Judith as well as the other youngsters are always terribly afraid that the hectic lives of their parents or step-parents, as the case may be, may lead to their being sent to different homes. As it is, they go from pillar to post on European sands.
A sympathetic soul appears on the horizon in the shape of Martin Boyne, who encounters Judith and her sextet at the Lido. To her gratification she discovers that Mr. Boyne knew her father in Europe. Boyne soon is like a big brother to the six, but Judith, who is getting on for 18, has her own idea about him. Even a 10-year-old girl looks forward to matrimony with somebody and it could not be any one better than Martin, as they call him.
Unfortunately, however, for these youngsters and particularly for Judith, Martin is engaged to marry Rose Sellers, who lives with her philosophic, white-haired aunt. Martin delays going to his fiancée, who happens to be in Switzerland, much to Rose’s annoyance. Rose had been married once before, and one concludes that she is lucky indeed to have inveigled Martin into proposing to her. One also is impelled to think that Martin is not as bright as he seems to be or he would not have fallen in love with Rose.
There are a number of scenes in which pathos and humor are mingled. One of the children is impudent, another is coy; a third, a boy, is getting beyond Judith’s control. In one episode one perceives the youngsters lined up at the side of a bathtub filled with water and two or three of the youngsters are taking their turns at trying to see how long they can keep their heads under water. Victory means a lot to them in this sport. The affection developed by these children for Martin is charming.
Lilyan Tashman is sure enough of herself in the part of Mrs. Wheater, but more often than not she makes the grievous error of reciting rather than talking. Huntly Gordon does well as Mr. Wheater and William Austin delivers some amusement as an English lord. Maude Turner Gordon is splendid as Rose’s elderly aunt. Seena Owen is capital as Martin’s fretting fiancée and Master Philippe de Lacy does intelligent acting as the oldest boy of the heterogeneous flock.
Ruby Keeler Jolson is appearing in the Paramount’s stage attraction, “Ingenues’ Gambol,” which was staged by Boris Petroff.