Ma and Pa Kettle (1949)

Ma and Pa Kettle is a 1949 American comedy film directed by Charles Lamont. It is the sequel to the 1947 film version of Betty MacDonald‘s semi-fictional memoir The Egg and I and the first official installment of Universal-International‘s Ma and Pa Kettle franchise starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride.

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Plot

Ma and Pa Kettle have lived in a broken-down ramshackle farmhouse for twenty-five years in rural Cape Flattery, Washington. The Kettles’ arch-nemesis, Birdie Hicks, organizes a town council meeting to condemn the Kettles’ “garbage dump” farm. In order to receive a new tobacco pouch for entering a contest, Pa Kettle writes a slogan for the King Henry Tobacco Company.

During the council meeting to condemn the property, Alvin, the town’s mailman, calls about a telegram declaring Pa Kettle the winner of the contest’s grand prize of a new “house-of-the-future”. Mayor Dwiggins is delighted and cancels the meeting in order to deliver the telegram personally to Pa. All of the council members arrive at Ma and Pa’s farmhouse but are greeted by the 14 youngest Kettle children who thinking they are defending their home from condemnation, attack them with slingshots and toy guns.

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The Kettles’ oldest son Tom, on his way home after graduating from college, meets easterner Kim Parker on the train and shows her his plans to improve a chicken incubator to make it more affordable for farmers. Kim is a young writer full of theories on the advantages of modern living, but when Tom learns of his family’s windfall, he objects to the characterization that his upbringing had been one of “abject” poverty.

The family move into their large house-of-the-future. After Pa suffers a sunburned face from a heat lamp while shaving, he alone moves back to their old house to further avoid such troublesome gadgets. The jealous Birdie Hicks accuses Pa of plagiarizing his prize-winning slogan from traveling salesman Billy Reed, who has a similar one on a calendar. The bad publicity threatens Tom’s chances for financing his incubator.

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When Pa is disqualified from winning the prize, Ma and the kids have to literally fight off authorities trying to evict them from the modern house while Kim digs up proof that Pa thought up the slogan himself. Billy explains that he got his slogan from Pa, not vice versa, and they keep the house. Tom gets financing to manufacture his improved chicken incubator and marries Kim. At the ceremony Pa receives a telegram advising him that he has won another slogan contest, this time winning a free trip to New York.

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Films

Ma and Pa Kettle first appeared in supporting roles as neighbors in The Egg and I, starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert as a refined city couple who move to a rural chicken farm. Marjorie Main, a veteran character actress, played a hardy country woman in dozens of films, and so was a natural for the role of Ma Kettle. Main was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.After the success of The Egg and I, she and Percy Kilbride starred in their own series of Ma and Pa Kettle movies, which became box-office bonanzas for Universal Pictures, having earned an estimated $35 million for the entire series

Original film poster

Kilbride retired after making Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki due to an automobile accident,and the Pa Kettle character did not appear in The Kettles in the Ozarks. Arthur Hunnicutt played Pa’s brother Sedgewick Kettle in that movie and in The Kettles on Old MacDonald’s Farm, the last Kettle movie, Parker Fennelly played Pa Kettle.

The ten Kettle films are:

  1. The Egg and I – 1947
  2. Ma and Pa Kettle – 1949
  3. Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town – 1950
  4. Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm – 1951
  5. Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair – 1952
  6. Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation – 1953
  7. Ma and Pa Kettle at Home – 1954
  8. Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki – 1955
  9. The Kettles in the Ozarks – 1956
  10. The Kettles on Old MacDonald’s Farm – 1957
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