The Mating Game (film)

The Mating Game (1959) is an MGM Metrocolor film in CinemaScope directed by George Marshall, and starring Debbie Reynolds, Tony Randall and Paul Douglas in his final film role. Reynolds sings the title song during the opening credits. The film was written by William Roberts very loosely based on a British novel, The Darling Buds of May by H. E. Bates, which was later adapted into a more faithful 1991–93 British miniseries, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones in the role that Debbie Reynolds plays in the film.

The Mating Game
theatrical poster
Directed byGeorge Marshall
Produced byPhilip Barry, Jr.
Written byWilliam Roberts
Based onThe Darling Buds of May
1958 novel
by H. E. Bates
StarringDebbie Reynolds
Tony Randall
Paul Douglas
Music byJeff Alexander (score)
CinematographyRobert J. Bronner
Edited byJohn McSweeney, Jr.
Release date
  • April 29, 1959 (1959-04-29) (U.S.)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3,925,000[1][2]

The film has been featured on Turner Classic Movies, and was released on DVD by The Warner Archive in March 2009.[3]


Irritated neighbor Wendell Burnshaw (Philip Ober) brings the Larkin family to the attention of the Internal Revenue Service. Lorenzo Charlton (Tony Randall) is assigned to the case by his boss, Kelsey (Fred Clark). Ma (Una Merkel) and Pop Larkin (Paul Douglas) warmly welcome him to their family farm in Maryland, at first unaware of why he is there.

Lorenzo is aghast to learn that the Larkins have never filed a tax return. With their cooperation, he sets out to figure out what, if anything, they owe in the way of back taxes, a difficult task, as Pop usually just trades for what they need and keeps no records.

Lorenzo and the eldest Larkin daughter, Mariette (Debbie Reynolds), become attracted to each other, but he does not let that get in the way of his work, at least not at first. However, as time goes by, he begins to loosen up and lose some of his buttoned-down mentality. When Kelsey and Burnshaw drop by to check his progress, Kelsey is displeased with this development. He takes charge of the investigation and sends Lorenzo back to the office in disgrace.

Kelsey calculates the Larkins owe $50,000. The Larkins are unable to pay such a large sum, so Kelsey tells them they can either sell the farm to Burnshaw or face foreclosure. The Larkins' many friends rally round them and offer to buy some of their junk for inflated prices, but Pop proudly turns them down.

Meanwhile, Mariette goes to see Lorenzo. The family's only hope is a receipt for 30 horses bought by the government in the American Civil War and never paid for. With great difficulty, they manage to see Inspector General Bigelow (Charles Lane). His legal department calculates that the Larkins are owed, with all the interest that has accrued, over $14 million. Pop decides not to accept it, as he did nothing to earn it, but Lorenzo gets Bigelow to agree to apply it against all present and future taxes owing.


Box office

According to MGM records the film, earned $2.6 million in the US and Canada and $1,325,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $1,261,000.[1]



  1. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. US and Canada take see "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. The Warner Archive, WB Shop.
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