Based on a play by Paddy Chayefsky (the Oscar-winning MARTY and NETWORK), THE CATERED AFFAIR is a kitchen-sink drama starring Ernest Borgnine and Bette Davis as a Bronx cabbie and his wife whose daughter Debbie Reynolds (now that’s some gene pool!) is getting married. Borgnine wants to use his savings to buy his own cab, but Davis wants to throw Reynolds the fairy tale wedding she never had.
It may not sound like much but the actors bring honest emotion to Chayefsky’s dialogue. Davis is heartbreaking and Reynolds is notable in a rare dramatic role. Barry Fitzgerald does his usual schtick, but nobody does it better. The lack of chemistry between Davis, Borgnine, and Reynolds works perfectly in the context of the story.
Andre Previn’s main theme is a memorable three-quarter melody with just a whiff of Irish, representing the unspoken feelings between Davis and Borgnine. The other main theme is a more contemporary trumpet solo for Reynolds and fiancé Rod Taylor. The score is a short one, clocking in at approximately twenty minutes, with the rest filled in by source cues.
Basically forgotten today, THE CATERED AFFAIR was a surprising “Top Ten” film from the National Board of Review, and Reynolds even won the Best Supporting Actress for her performance. In the hands of a lesser director or lesser actors, this minor gem could have been a dated affair. Thankfully, Previn’s understated score also keeps the film from tipping into sentimentality.
The film was turned into a 2008 Broadway musical with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by John Bucchino. Broadway didn’t give a damn about plain people, even from one of their own boroughs, and the show closed after three months.