Do you know what 1956 television audiences apparently found funny? A man who is skilled at putting together an organized breakfast. I concede that in the Screen Directors Playhouse episode Apples on the Lilac Tree that a group of wives greeting each other in the hallway of their apartment building while grabbing the morning milk is funny when you add a one husband to the equation. I was a bit surprised, however, when the studio audience supplied laughter to a scene of this man flipping eggs, grabbing toast and pouring coffee in an organized rhythm. Nevertheless, the episode teaches us the hazards of moving into new roles after 10 years of marriage.
MacDonald Carey plays William Tyler who acts as housewife as his spouse works as an executive assistant at a bathing suit company. He knows all the ins and outs of maintaining the household, but when his schooling is finally complete and he is accepted for an assistant professorship, the couple consider swapping roles. The wife Maggie (Joan Caulfield) is out of her element as cook and housekeeper, however, making life unpleasant for them both. Her boss has additionally begged her to return to work and to assume a more prestigious position. It looks as though neither party will be happy in the new set up, but a pregnancy will apparently solve all ills.
Apples on the Lilac Tree sets up a great premise and conflict, but the resolution is not a sufficient one. Although William is very happy to become breadwinner and make use of his advanced degrees, albeit at a lower household income than his wife hauls in, Maggie is miserable at home. She cannot get a grasp on cooking or cleaning and misses the importance her position at the bathing suit company had. She was “unhappy” in that job because she was taken for granted and often required to work late, but the new position offered her would have meant an even greater salary and a title of prestige. Her having a baby does not resolve her issues in being stuck at home but does give her a better purpose in life.
Another Screen Director’s Playhouse with an unsatisfactory conclusion involves romance around the turn of the 20th century, entitled The Bitter Waters. George Sanders plays middle-aged man Charles who never married because he was scorned by the woman he loved who sought riches instead. He is vacationing with his nephew Archie (Robert Vaughn), who is attracted to a young woman across the casino. She is Linda (Cynthia Baxter), who happens to be the daughter of that heart-breaker Louise (Constance Cummings) who dumped Charles ages ago.
The young people want to get married, and Archie has money, but Louise is inexplicably opposed to the possibility. The women leave town to avoid progressing the romance, but the men find them and are as intent as ever to have the man and woman engaged. Louise finally reveals to Charles that her aversion to the courtship is that Linda has become a woman colder and harder than she who seeks only money and will make the young man miserable. The families move on, but at the episode’s close we see Linda moving in on another wealthy suitor.
The Bitter Waters‘ conclusion caught me off guard and seemed rather abrupt as I perhaps thought I was watching a movie and that we would see Linda’s further efforts to land a mate. The secret about Louise’ opposition to the marriage was a surprise, although I was expecting something more scandalous, such as that Linda was in fact Charles’ daughter conceived out of wedlock. The Bitter Waters was certainly a dark story bereft of any real romance, but I was dissatisfied in the end.