Take a look at any cover art for Love Nest, either from its initial release or the numerous ‘classics’ redistributions it has received over the years and you will see Marilyn Monroe in all of her early career glory. Dressed in a form fitting WAC uniform, platinum blonde hair, and mouth slightly open (what ever she is doing, she needs to breathe rather hard), Monroe is an easy sell both at the time of the film’s release and the present.
However, there is another detail to notice in the cover image. She only received fourth billing. One of the most iconic and celebrated film actresses in history appears on screen for less than 5 minutes of the film’s total 80 minute run. Granted, in most scenes she is as titilating as an actress could possibly get away with in Truman era Hollywood (apparently they needed to close down the set from throngs of studio gawkers when she appeared in one scene in a bikini), but her significant absence from the screen makes her significant presence on the advertisements that more peculiar.
Once you have seen Love Nest however, you will come to understand that Monroe’s brief bursts of sex appeal is about all that the film has going for it, and even then those bursts are from a character whose presence is never justified or resolved whatsoever. Whatever charm or humor that it once potentially carried for the 1951 audience has long gone. However, culturally and historically it is fascinating to get a chance to watch a not-so-golden example of the Golden Age of Hollywood. As time goes on, the poorer works of any given era fade from memory into oblivion, leaving a false sense of greater quality when comparing modern day entertainment to that of the past. To get an understanding of any time period in film history, it can be just as important to see the less than stellar examples of movie making as it is to review the honored gems.
Love Nest is the kind of comedy that does not age well. The majority of the laughs come from gags that have become incredibly stale or have lost any cultural relevance, such that they cannot even be identified as jokes. Modern audiences have an easier time connecting with comedy stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton over Laurel and Hardy and Amos and Andy because the silent, physical feats performed by the former are of a timeless language that needs no cultural context to understand. The humor inherit of a man slipping on a banana peel has not, and will not change, but the humor of a person’s verbal reaction to a man slipping on a banana peel is subject to change with the times. The way in which the characters interact with one another has lost any comic energy and now simply comes off as mean spirited. The majority of conversations, whether it be between newlyweds or strangers, always carries a degree of passive contempt, even if the situation calls for intensity of a much higher, or lower magnitude.
This film also marks a period in which the Hollywood system was in flux. The traditional studio system of selling distributions of films in “blocks” of five films, with the majority of each block being comprised of films that were mediocre at best, was fading quickly as anti-trust suits were beginning to gain purchase against the Big Five Hollywood studios. This puts Love Nest’s just at the tale end of this system of mediocrity and it shows not only in its humor and direction, but in the roster of present talent. Of the four major players in Love Nest, only Marilyn Monroe would have a sizable career after this films release. William Lundigan, would work consistently in small roles on television into the 1970s. June Haver, appeared in one final film before retiring from the profession. Frank Fay, the agent of chaos in the plot as well as the only actor who is noted for his comedy sensibilities, was very over-the-hill by 1951 and is noted as being very difficult to work with by this point in his life due to his vastly overblown ego. This also turned out to be his final appearance in a film. Combine all of that with an underused Monroe who isn’t even given the opportunity to make jokes and you have a very miserable comedy.
The crossfire of snide remarks isn’t unique to Love Nest, earlier films such as the much more celebrated Katherine Hepburn vehicle, Stage Door, from 14 years earlier depends on a similar loose plot structure to carry a similar barrage of innuendo and sarcasm to much greater effect. This may be because this style of humor came off as fresher a decade earlier, but it might also have to do with the cast being filled with performers that put more effort into being funny.
Another point of a somewhat unpleasant nature is the way that the film addresses the protagonist as a veteran arriving back home from the European front of WWII. Although his military service has a marginal significance to the plot that is primarily about the scandalous interactions of apartment tenants and the upkeep of the complex, it is mentioned throughout in an all too light way. The relative insignificance put on what would later be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is apparent when the characters use such light terms as “Loosing a few buttons,” and “Booby hatch,” when referring to the veteran’s potentially peculiar behavior. One of the film’s characteristic one liners comes after Lundigan offers to do some amateur plumbing, “You’d be surprised what I picked up in the army,” to which his wife replies with a smirk, “I probably would.” Granted the humor of these jokes derive from people being somewhat conscious of the horrors of war, but put into the frame of what could be summed up as an 80 minute sitcom pilot, they come off as inappropriate and unnecessary.
Modern day audiences will also have a hard time following the arc of Fay’s character, who is revealed to be a con artist who swindles rich widows out of their late husband’s fortunes through charm and phony investments. Once challenged about his wrongdoings, he manages to convince the protagonists and seemingly the audience, that his actions were justified because the widows did not earn their fortunes and were just as parasitic as he was. Given the happy ending he receives, the film not only wants us to feel that he is justified, but that we should be rooting for him by the end.
So there you have Love Nest, a film produced by a dying system of mediocrity, comprised of leads who have either stopped being funny decades before hand or were never too funny to begin with at the end of their filmic careers, with the one figure of any lasting presence marginalized as an object of lust and envy that has no real significance to the plot whatsoever. They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.