‘Sailor Beware’ (1956) is a showcase for the reasons why Peggy Mount is rarely referred to without the preface “redoubtable” or “formidable”. She plays the stereotypical “monster-in-law” with brass knobs on, terrorising everyone in a five mile radius with her dragonesque proclamations. To say that she was born for that role is a subtle understatement. A concept that her character, Emma Hornett, would have no grasp of at all.
‘Sailor Beware’ is a very humorous film. It doesn’t take itself seriously and is aware that its characters are drawn simply and in one dimension. It takes one aspect of a character and seizes upon it with comic gusto. I don’t think that there is anything wrong in this as a light-hearted entertainment. In fact I laughed myself silly, especially at the neighbour Mrs Lack, played by Thora Hird. I would have liked to have seen her role extended.
This is a truly old fashioned film. It’s unlikely that a modern screenplay would get away with such stock characters. In particular, the nagging wife/mother-in-law and unfulfilled spinster sister (Esma Cannon) would now have to be shown as something other than one-dimensional if the film were to be taken seriously. The ever delightful Esma’s character type is unknown these days. Jilted at the altar, she never recovered and has spent the rest of her days living in her brother’s house, being bossed about by her sister-in-law. Her deference to Emma’s superior status as a married woman is Austen-esque. Thankfully, women’s status is no longer tied into marriage, rendering this type of character obsolete.
I would like to be able to say that the entire storyline, which centres around Emma’s daughter’s wedding, is also obsolete. But unfortunately, for a reason I personally am unable to fathom, some women are still refusing to let go of the idea of a white wedding and a happy-ever-after. People are still spending thousands of pounds (which they either don’t have, or would be better spent elsewhere) on an old custom, much like eating pudding at Christmas. At the risk of offending some readers, I would say that the whole big wedding thing is a cry for attention from the insecure, and that the length of a marriage is often in direct proportion to the amount of money spent on it – the more money the shorter the lifespan.
After all, it is only a hangover from a time when women were mere chattels going through a ceremony where she was transferred from her father’s possession into that of her husband. Why perpetuate this when we are no longer bound to be defined by who we belong to? Surely we are now sophisticated enough not to be defined by a Miss/Mrs title. And why oh why do women still put themselves through the hassle of changing their surname? Changing your address when you move house is bad enough. Why suddenly re-arrange your whole identity for the sake of tradition? I just don’t get it. Call me a bitter old spinster if you like, but I feel neither bitter nor spinsterish, I believe that I have the best of everything in being able to have children, have a career and keep my name, my identity, the one that I grew up with.
These are the opportunities that we have – so why are some elements of the ‘Sailor Beware’ wedding so familiar to a 21st Century audience? The panic about the arrangements, the arrival of the cake, the silly white dress, the bride’s late arrival at the church to be “given away” by her father. Still it goes on. In some areas of life, I’d be all for keeping up old traditions, but there are some that we must resign to history. Public hangings, for example. We will never achieve true equality while we perpetuate this wedding language of “giving away” a woman to another family (as a breeding machine). There are also stereotypes perpetuated by magazines and television about brides as controlling bridezillas determined to trap their passive man, which frankly I find offensive. These stereotypes and language, like public hangings, must now be consigned to history. We are all individuals. Everyone should stop for a moment and think about this, then just get on with their lives as they are. I would say to anyone contemplating marriage to watch ‘Sailor Beware’ and use it as a lesson on how laughably ridiculous the whole thing is.