The Mating Game (1959)

Pop Larkin (Paul Douglas) isn’t a big believer in using cash.  Instead, he prefers to trade for the things that he needs for his farm and for his family.  Most of the community is totally okay with this, but when his neighbor Wendell Burnshaw gets fed up with it, he wants to take legal action to get the Larkins off their land and out of his hair.  He talks to a lawyer who starts investigating the Larkins’ tax history and finds that they have never filed a tax return.  Of course, the IRS starts investigating and they send Lorenzo Charlton (Tony Randall) to the Larkins’ farm to figure out how much the farm is worth and whether or not they owe anything.

At first, Lorenzo is greeted by a warm reception from Pop, Ma (Una Merkel), their feisty daughter Mariette (Debbie Reynolds), and their other children Lee, Grant, Victoria, and Susan.  There’s even a mutual attraction between Lorenzo and Mariette, but Lorenzo tries to focus on his work the best he can.  After talking to Pop, Lorenzo finds out that they have no financial records and that the Larkins’ tradition of trading dates back to the Civil War when the government stiffed some of his ancestors for some horses.  The only thing Lorenzo can do is go around and try to estimate the value of everything they have, which Mariette gladly offers to help him with.  Despite his all-business attitude, Lorenzo can’t help but secretly be distracted by the farm’s laid-back attitude and Mariette’s charm.  A quick call to his boss gets him focused again, but Ma and Pop have noticed that Mariette likes Lorenzo and scheme to make him stay longer.  Grant and Lee are pretty mechanically inclined, so they mess with Lorenzo’s car and at dinner, Pop gives him a drink.  It turns out it was a really good drink, too, because before Lorenzo knows what hit him, he’s dancing all around the house.  When his boss calls and discovers that Lorenzo is drunk, he’s ordered to go to a motel.  But with his car out-of-order, oh darn, he has to stay at the Larkins’ place.

They put Lorenzo in Mariette’s room for the night and Mariette slept in the living room.  When Lorenzo wakes up the next morning, he wakes up with the wrong impression and Mariette is insulted that he would think such a thing.  But when she calms down again, she helps him look for a document proving how much the farm was worth when it was inherited.  In the process, she finds proof that the government stiffed her family all those years ago.  Eventually any animosity fades between the two and they kiss.  But just then, a few of Mariette’s boyfriends happen to walk in and find them together and they get into a huge fight with Lorenzo.  And to top it all off, Lorenzo’s boss stops by to see how it’s coming.  Of course, Lorenzo’s boss insists on taking over and Lorenzo goes back to the city.  When Lorenzo’s boss get through with his evaluation, he declares the Larkins owe $50,000.  If Pop can’t pay it, he’ll lose the farm.  Livid, Mariette races into the city and finds Lorenzo to ask his advice.  He suggests trying to get the government to pay up for the horses, but that process could take forever.  However, Lorenzo helps Mariette find a way to push her claim through faster than normal.  They find out that with interest, the government owes the Larkins about fourteen million dollars!  When they get back to the farm and tell everyone the news, Pop doesn’t want to take the money.  He feels he hasn’t earned it, but says the government can keep the money to pay off the past taxes and for any future taxes, as well.

The Mating Game was absolutely delightful.  Leave it to Debbie Reynolds and Tony Randall to make problems with the IRS look like a good time!  Debbie Reynolds’ energy was completely off the charts here.  I don’t know how one person can have that much energy, but Debbie somehow managed to do it!  If you want something purely light, frothy, and totally inoffensive, this is a good one to go with.

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