When Maggie Carleton (Gene Tierney) meets Val McNulty (John Lund) after she nearly runs her car off a cliff, love is almost immediately in bloom, much to the consternation of Maggie's wealthy suitor Junior Kalinger (James Lorimer) and Val's secretary, Betsy (Jan Sterling). But, if the young couple thought life with Junior and Betsy were their only problems, they were mistaken, because in comes trouble in the form of his mother Ellen (Thelma Ritter) and HER mother Fran (Miriam Hopkins). Problem 1 - Fran is a horror, who thinks her son-in-law is far beneath her (and Maggie's) notice. Problem 2 - Maggie has mistaken Ellen for a housekeeper who was being sent over by an employment agency, and Ellen doesn't want her to know that she is Val's mother. So, when both mothers move move in - Ellen as housekeeper, and Fran by taking over the master bedroom, the marriage begins to feel its growing pains.
Though Gene Tierney and John Lund are the official stars of this film, the movie really belongs to Thelma Ritter as the down-to-earth Ellen. Though Miriam Hopkins thinks it is her movie (see this TCM article for Ms. Hopkins hijinks), there is no way even Hopkins, the ultimate scene stealer, can get the film back from Ritter. As with pretty much everything she does, when Ritter is on the screen, you are looking at HER. Do you recall Ms. Ritter in Miracle on 34th Street? She has two, very brief scenes, but you will always remember her as the harried mother in Macys. In 1951, she was nominated for her second Academy Award for her supporting role in The Mating Season; ultimately, she was nominated six times (and never won. Go figure). Ellen is the emotional core of the film, with Ritter providing a perfect foil to Hopkins meddling mother, as she carefully tries to maneuver past the dangers that come with two mothers-in-law in the same house. There are perhaps no scenes more telling than the pair that show each child with his/her mother. In one, we see Maggie and Fran in the master bedroom - where Fran has not only separated husband and wife, she has even gone so far as to steal Maggie's only pillow; this is followed by a conversation between Val and Ellen, in which Ellen's desire to sacrifice for her son and his wife is so very clear.
Gene Tierney is also quite wonderful as Maggie. Badly played, Maggie could be a wimp, but Tierney gives her spunk and integrity. Her blossoming relationship with Ellen is warm and affectionate. And when Ellen's real position in the household is revealed, you sympathize with Maggie's fury for the deception that has robbed her of an even better relationship with her new mother.
Equally wonderful in as very small role is Larry Keating as George Kalinger, Sr. The wealthy head of Val's company, Mr. Kalinger, Sr. is impressed by both Val, and especially with Val's mother. How he got a son like Junior is a puzzle - and one Mr. Kalinger doesn't understand. The comfortable nature of his relationship with Ellen provides a lovely picture of mature love - placed in juxtaposition to our young lovers, we can almost see the future for Maggie and Val. Keating, who would eventually go on to a noted television career (as the original Harry Morton in The Burns and Allen Show, and as next-door neighbor Roger Addison in Mr. Ed), died in 1963.