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The Catered Affair (1956)

Rod Taylor plays Ralph Halloran -- a sensible, bespectacled schoolteacher -- in Gore Vidal's big-screen adaptation of a Paddy Chayefsky TV drama.

Taylor earned this role on the strength of a screen test for the Rocky Graziano story, "Somebody Up There Likes Me." Although Paul Newman got that part, Taylor landed a contract with MGM, and the accent he put on for the screen test earned him the role as a boy from the Bronx in "The Catered Affair."

Taylor has said that MGM chief Dore Schary "didn't know I was just 18 months out of Australia until the movie was half finished."

As the film opens, Jane Hurley (Debbie Reynolds) announces at breakfast that, after three years of courtship, she and Ralph are getting married in a week. All they want is a small wedding with the immediate family and no reception. Jane's parents react matter-of-factly and everyone seems to be in agreement about the practicality of the arrangement.

But when the future in-laws gather for dinner that evening, all Ralph's parents talk about are the big weddings they gave their daughters. All of a sudden, Jane's mother (Bette Davis) is planning a big wedding breakfast with hundreds of guests.

As the cost of the catered affair begins to exceed the family's savings, Mrs. Hurley rails at Mr. Hurley (Ernest Borgnine) for failing to be a good provider. But Mr. Hurley has been saving money to buy his own taxicab, and on the verge of realizing that dream, he sees all his money going toward a wedding neither he nor Jane nor Ralph really want.

The wedding is clearly compensation for Mrs. Hurley's own hurried, unromantic nuptials as well as her general emotional disregard for her daughter as she grew up. It's her chance to give her daughter something to think of "when the bad years come."

As a counterpoint to the indifference and awkwardness in the Hurley household, it's clear that Jane and Ralph won't have any bad years. In one scene together, Taylor and Reynolds show us a couple comfortable with only each other for company and with a sweet passion that's sure to endure.

The film was directed by Richard Brooks, who had this to say about young Rod Taylor:

He acts the way he is. His principal asset, as an actor and a person, is the fact that he listens well to a director and other players. His actions are all normal to the scene and honest, particularly in a role which will permit him to exploit his own personality. I predict that Rod Taylor will go straight to the top.



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Video of scene between Rod Taylor and Debbie Reynolds: Chemistry!

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