Gone to the Movies: “Adelaide’s Lament”


Let’s lighten things up around here a little bit, shall we?  Although from today’s perspective, this song perpetuates a lot of stereotypes about women.  I chose it mostly because my cold reminded me of it.  (I’ve moved into the congestion stage, which means I’m feeling better but I’m all stuffy nosed. Sudafed is my best friend right now.)

Vivian Blaine played Adelaide in the 1955 film version of the Broadway hit.  I’m not a particular fan of musicals, but I have a bit of a soft spot for Guys and Dolls.  It’s a favorite of my father’s–although I don’t know if that’s because he read the original Damon Runyon stories, or if he liked the connection to the Salvation Army (the only charity he gives to on a regular basis).  Either way, he loves Guys and Dolls; so needless to say, I’ve had to sit through it one or two times.  Luckily, the music pretty much makes up for the silliness of the plot.  My personal favorite is Marlon Brando singing “Luck Be a Lady.”  He’s not much a singer, but he puts so much of his marvelous acting behind it that I find myself riveted to the performance.  (I feel I should note here that Don Henley did a terrific reggae-tinged version of “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” for the soundtrack to the movie Leap of Faith.  I like that song a lot, too.)

“Adelaide’s Lament” is comic in intent.  The subplot of the romance between the cold-footed Nathan Detroit and his long-suffering girlfriend Miss Adelaide is the comic relief counterpoint to the main romance between Sky Masterson and Sgt. Sarah Brown.  You’re supposed to laugh at their antics.  Vivian Blaine is by turns sweet and fierce, a sexpot with her eyes on becoming an “honest woman.”   How she intended to become an honest woman by marrying a gangster is left unanswered.  But as charming and lovely as Blaine’s performance is, I can’t help but feel a little irked by the myths perpetuated by the “medical” book she reads from.  I understand that both the movie and the musical (not to mention the short stories) are from a different time.  The 1950s isn’t exactly known for being a feminist wonderland, but it’s hard to turn off what I know is the truth.

The fact is, while marriage is considered beneficial for both partners, studies have concluded that men gain far more physically and psychologically from being married than women do.  Married men live much longer and are healthier than their bachelor counterparts–whether because someone takes care of them, or they’re more motivated to take better care of themselves, I don’t know.  Women do still live longer, but marriage’s benefits are less pronounced for them.  So instead of developing a cold, women are almost as well off in terms of health if they stay single.  “Adelaide’s Lament” is funny, but wrong.

Wow.  So much for lightening things up.  This kind of went in a direction I didn’t expect.  It is a cute performance . . . as long as you ignore the sexist stereotypes.