"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.