Cast & Crew
After being stationed away from his San Diego home base for more than a year, Navy Commander William Lattimer is ordered by Admiral Homer Thorndyke to return home and begin a study program at a Navy radar school. William's wife Daphne and his two young sons give William a big welcome when he returns, but their celebration comes to an abrupt end when Daphne slips on a rollerskate and breaks her ankle. The injury leaves Daphne bedridden and precludes her from doing any housework. Unaccustomed to handling domestic chores, William suddenly finds himself managing the housework and taking care of his sons. William's efforts to bring order to the household flounder, and his responsibilities at home soon prove so exhausting that he is nearly thrown out of the radar school for tardiness and lack of attention. William continues to fail both at home and at radar school until he gets an idea to employ military-style regimentation and planning to the day-to-day life at his home. After interviewing some housewives in the neighborhood and researching the effectiveness of such a plan, William establishes a system of order that proves to be an instant success. In addition to maintaining a high level of organization at home, William invests in a number of new appliances to help speed household chores, including an automatic ironing device and an intercom system. The plan works so well that William takes his ideas to lecture halls all over town and tries to persuade other housewives to follow suit. As William's housekeeping methods gain in popularity, Agnes Thorndyke, Homer's wife, and Daphne begin a campaign to get their husbands out of the Navy and keep them at home for good. With the passage of time, however, Daphne finds that she is unable to cope with the strictness of William's overly efficient style, and decides to leave him. The marriage is saved at the last moment, though, when Dr. Philip Abbott, the family doctor, advises Walker to relent and consider the happiness of his children and wife. William and Daphne make amends, after which Daphne urges her husband to rejoin the Navy and leave the housework to her.
William H. Mclean
Joe Brown Jr.
Tom Brown Henry
Mary Jo Ellis
Mae Clarke Langdon
Bertram A. Ribbey
Standish J. Lambert
R. S. Pierce
Lt. Comdr. H. D. Smith U.s.n. (ret.)
Edwin B. Willis
William H. Wright
The Skipper Surprised His Wife -
By 1950, Walker's off-screen life was pretty complex in its own right. While playing all-American boys in Bataan (1943), the first film under his MGM contract, See Here, Private Hargrove (1944) and The Clock (1945), his personal life was falling apart. His wife, Jennifer Jones, was under contract to independent producer David O. Selznick, who was clearly smitten with the young woman. Her growing feelings for Selznick ended her marriage, and Walker turned to drink for consolation. After a DUI arrest, MGM production chief Dore Schary had him admitted to the Menninger Clinic. When he got out, the studio assigned him a pair of light comedies, Please Believe Me (1950), with Deborah Kerr, and this film.
The Skipper Surprised His Wife started life as a series of magazine articles by Naval officer W.J. Lederer in This Week Magazine. In them, he recounted his personal experiences when he had to take over housekeeping after his wife broke her ankle. At first he struggled to establish a routine, but then tried applying military regimentation to his chores, turning his household into a well-oiled machine. MGM purchased the film rights in 1948, intending the story as a vehicle for Van Heflin. By the time they got it into production, however, Heflin had left the studio. Originally, Vincente Minnelli was attached to direct, but he was reassigned to Father of the Bride (1950). In his place they turned to writer-director-actor Elliott Nugent, who had scored hits at Paramount directing such Bob Hope vehicles as The Cat and the Canary (1939), Nothing But the TruthMy Favorite Brunette (1947). He had also directed Danny Kaye's debut feature, Up in Arms (1944) and the film version of his and James Thurber's stage hit, The Male Animal (1942).
Betty Garrett was originally cast as Daphne, but had to withdraw when she discovered she was pregnant. The studio tested Sally Forrest and Diana Lynn for the role before choosing Joan Leslie, who had only made two films for B studio Eagle-Lion since ending her Warner Bros. contract in 1946. To fill out the cast, they drew on contract players Edward Arnold and Leon Ames and signed on Spring Byington as an admiral's wife and Jan Sterling as a beautiful neighbor who rouses Leslie's jealousy.
MGM sold the film as a light-hearted romp, with footage of Walker in an apron trying to do housework. Any indication that the film would provide a refreshing take on traditional gender roles, however, is quickly wiped out by its basic premise, that a man can run a household better than a woman by applying the principles of men's work to the task. Though the trailer features the tagline "Together they discover that marriage is fine...fun...and 50-50," the film puts much more emphasis on masculine superiority. Referencing the plot catalyst, the wife's broken ankle, the trailer jokes "Rather than shoot her, the skipper himself turned to the task of homemaking and housewifing." Then it brags that "...with Navy planning and typical masculine superiority, he proved that any reasonably intelligent man can become not only master, but mistress of his house as well." The film's branding is borne out by Dorothy Kingsley's script. After Walker discovers the secret to efficient housekeeping, he goes on a speaking tour, during which he claims that "The average housewife is either a soap opera addict, a fence-hanger, a salesman-encourager, a book-of-the-monther or just plain lazy." All of that might be a little hard to swallow for contemporary audiences, though it certainly provides a fascinating window on the extent to which Hollywood helped promote traditional gender roles during the studio era.
Telling audiences what they were told to believe, however, was not enough to get audiences into theatres as post-war couples were settling in to raise children and watch television. Nugent completed the film on a $753,000 budget, but it brought in just $733,000 domestically and $193,000 overseas. Because of the cost of prints and advertising, the film posted a loss of $181,000. Nonetheless, it gives Walker a chance to show how effortlessly he could pull off such light fare, which makes his early death two years later all the more poignant.
Director: Elliott Nugent
Producer: William H. Wright
Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley
Based on the magazine article by Cmdr. W.J. Lederer, U.S.N. Cinematography: Harold Lipstein
Score: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Robert Walker (Cmdr. William J. Lattimer), Joan Leslie (Daphne Lattimer), Edward Arnold (Adm. Homer Thorndyke), Spring Byington (Agnes Thorndyke), Leon Ames (Dr. Philip Abbott), Jan Sterling (Rita Rossini), Mae Clarke (Clubwoman), Irene Ryan (Mrs. O'Rourke)
By Frank Miller
The Skipper Surprised His Wife -
The working title of this film was The Skipper Who Married His Wife. A September 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that M-G-M purchased the film rights to W. J. Lederer's articles as a vehicle for actor Van Heflin. The news item also indicated that Lederer, a former Navy man, based his stories on his own experiences managing his home and rearing his three children when his wife suffered an injury. Daily Variety news items add the following information: Betty Garrett was originally cast in the role of "Daphne Lattimer," but was forced to withdraw from the production because of her pregnancy. Sally Forrest and Diana Lynn were tested to replace her. Vincente Minnelli was originally assigned to direct the film, but the studio reassigned him to Father of the Bride. Portions of the film were shot on location in Coronado and San Diego, CA.