Friday, June 26, 2009

The Awful Truth: Grant, Dunne and a Dog Named Smith

"The Road to Reno is paved with suspicions" ~ Cary Grant as Jerry Warriner

I saw My Favorite Wife (1940) with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, years before I saw The Awful Truth, the classic comedy the star duo made together three years earlier. I remember thinking, how could the 1937 movie be better than Wife. When I eventually saw The Awful Truth, I realized, as good as My Favorite Wife was, the stars' original venture was that much better. The witty sophistication that sparkles throughout the film never lets up, but moves seamlessly from scene to scene, gag to gag and isn't afraid to let its guard down on occasion to let slapstick make a cameo appearance.

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are an ideal screwball team (this blogger prefers Grant's pairing with Miss Dunne to similar screen outings with Katherine Hepburn any day). Grant, at his most dapper, is in top form in The Awful Truth. It was one of the first films he made as an independent, non-studio bound actor and along with Topper (1937) and Bringing Up Baby (1938), pushed him to super stardom. In retrospect, Dunne is an actress who has been underrated and underappreciated by many and completely forgotten by even more. She is an absolute comic treasure in The Awful Truth, her facial expressions and timing are perfection. She had just finished her first big comedy Theodora Goes Wild the previous year and like Grant, was hitting her stride with this film.

The film begins with Jerry Warriner (Grant) at a New York City spa getting a tan underneath a sun lamp (for those of a certain youthful age, these were the precursors to tanning beds) as evidence to his wife, Lucy (Dunne), of his recent solo trip to Florida, which he never actually made. He arrives at his swank abode just minutes before Lucy appears, still dressed in her shimmering evening gown from the night before, accompanied by her handsome and debonair singing teacher (Alexander D'arcy). The situation is wrought with innuendo and doubt, on both sides as Lucy reads the stamp on one of the oranges Jerry brought her back from his Florida "trip" that reads ~ ORANGE GROWERS ASSOCIATION, CALIFORNIA. Words are exchanged and they decide to divorce, though the shenanigans each gets involved with to thwart the others potential post marital plans, proves their love for one another is as strong as ever.

Ralph Bellamy plays the rich rube from Oklahoma with whom Lucy gets involved, only to make Jerry jealous. The nightclub scene where the three of them accidentally meet up is a hoot, with a special nod going to Grant's date, Dixie Belle Lee (Joyce Compton), who performs a tacky and risque singing number at the club with hilarious reactions from Grant, Dunne and Bellamy. Joyce Compton, with her scatter brained persona and sweet-as-sugah-southun accent, is always a delight to watch. Molly Lamont plays Jerry's rebound main squeeze, a madcap heiress (didn't every 30's screwball comedy have to have one?) who's not only not madcap, she hardly ever smiles!

The couple's beloved dog, Mr. Smith (aka Asta of the Thin Man series fame) shares some of the films key comedic moments. The custody of Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith's piano duet with Jerry and Mr. Smith plays hide and seek with a hat are absolute classic bits of classic comedy. One of the funniest laugh out loud scenes involves Jerry bursting into Lucy's singing recital, expecting her to be in a clinch with her music teacher. Instead he's greeted with the stares of a room full of attendees and he begins wreaking havoc with a chair and side table while his wife not only holds her composure to finish her song but gets a little laugh at his antics while still on key.

The film's director, Leo McCarey, who produced My Favorite Wife, won an Academy Award and six other nominations were garnered including Best Picture, Best Actress for Dunne and Best Supporting Actor for Bellamy. Fun from beginning to end.


  1. Dunne added a deeply feminine touch that Hepburn never had.
    Attilio F.

  2. i've come to love katharine hepburn (finally) but cary/irene is my favorite of the cary pairings, rivaled only by cary/ingrid. i'm a huge fan of both and together they were just perfect.

  3. I love this movie even more then My favorite Wife. Irene and Cary is wonderful in this movie together. I can't believe I am saying this but yes I like this teaming more then Kate and Cary even though I love they're teaming and I love Kate as an actress. She is one of my faves. I am exclusing Philadelphia Story though, still love that movie more then this one. Bringing up baby and Holiday is more screwball comedy though like this one and I enjoy this one better. I am right with you Rupert. The hat scene is a lol moment and I love them wanting a divorce but sure are jealous who they are out with. lol.Great review as always!!

  4. So glad you spotlighted this screwball classic. It has some moments that I always relish. The nightclub scene IS hilarious but later when it's "recreated" (I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it by revealing how) is even better. Cary is of course wonderful in this, a perfect combo of suave & put upon. Even though their pairings come later I think his chemistry with Myrna Loy is spot on too.

  5. Garson Kanin directed "My Favorite Wife". McCarey was the producer.

  6. You're right Anonymous. Forgive my error.

  7. They make a fine pairing, but pale in comparison to the Hepburn/Grant trilogy of screwball films, and I also much prefer Jean Arthur with Grant as well as Rosalind Russell in the amazing His Girl Friday. Irene is much better in Dramas than comedy for the most part and doesn't crackle like the other three actresses, and the dialogue isn't as well written. And check out Grant in Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House too for a lot of fun, as well as Topper...

  8. Great post, Rupert. "The Awful Truth" is one of my all time favorite movies. I've watched it too many times to count and still laugh out loud at Dunne's Lola.

    Dunne was a very gifted actress whose work is just now being re-examined in a favorable light. James Agee, a critic from days past, was overly harsh and unfair in his assessment of Ms Dunne's talents, and it has taken years, literally, for his judgment to be reconsidered and overturned.

    In the rarely seen "The Mudlark" Dunne portrays Queen Victoria. She is uncanny in this role. Her dramatic performances are equal to her comedic ones. You are so right. Irene Dunne has been under-rated and under-appreciated through the years, but that is finally changing and rightfully so. Cary Grant said that he loved working with her, and it shows.

  9. what a great entry into your wonderful blog Rupert - one of my all time favs!!!!!!!

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  11. I love this movie!
    My favorite part is when Irene Dunne is giving her recital and Cary Grant comes in and falls over the chair and gets it tangled in his legs!
    I love that she gets the giggles and keeps on singing!

  12. The blog on The Girl From Missouri makes me want to see it. The plot does remind me of Red-Headed Woman, one of my favorites. As you said, Girl From Missouri sounds like a cleaned-up version. Pre-code movies are favorites of mine. I also like Barbara Stanwyck's Baby Face, a real scorcher for the period. It was very interesting to watch the original version vs. the version actually released. Thanks for the idea for a Harlow movie I haven't seen.


  13. I love this film. I'm a huge fan of Cary Grant. He's my favorite actor of all time. He was paired with so many wonderful actresses throughout the years. I really love his work with Irene Dunne. These two were incredible together. Great post. I hope you'll stop by my blog when you get the chance. Thanks. Cheers!

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