Any screwball comedy starring Cary Grant is probably going to be worth watching (except for The Philadelphia Story which leaves me cold). And The Awful Truth is a pretty good example of the screwball comedy.
Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are Lucy and Jerry Warriner, a married couple who have tried to trust one another but it’s becoming more and more difficult to do so. Especially since it’s made pretty obvious that Jerry really is playing around, and Lucy probably is as well. Jerry has always liked the idea of having a sophisticated modern marriage but when he’s presented with fairly clear evidence that Lucy has been fooling around with her music teacher he discovers that his attitudes aren’t so modern after all. In fact he’s insanely jealous, and pretty soon the Warriners land up in the divorce court.
The divorce goes fairly smoothly apart from a bitter wrangle over custody of their dog, Mr Smith. They remain on friendly terms until they both decide to marry other people. Slowly the awful truth dawns on them that they’re still hopelessly in love with each other.
That’s it for the plot. Not that it matters because it doesn’t need a plot. And apparently director Leo McCarey felt it didn’t need a script either. He thought they could all just make it up as they went along. This upset Cary Grant at first but eventually he realised that he could improvise and that the picture was actually working despite McCarey’s unconventional (by Hollywood standards very unconventional) methods.
It took me a while to get into this one. It started to pick up as soon as Ralph Bellamy arrived on the scene about a quarter of the way through. Apart from the fact that I like Ralph Bellamy anyway he provides the needed focus. From that point on the movie really starts to zing. If course when Ralph Bellamy is playing the romantic rival you just know he’s not going to get the girl, so you know that Cary Gant and Irene Dunne will get back together. But this is a romantic comedy so you knew that anyway.
This is a movie packed with inspired comedic moments. There’s Jerry’s short-lived fling with a floozy named Dixie Belle Lee that ends with her truly bizarre musical number in a night-club, assisted by a wind machine blowing up her dress. There’s the scene with Lucy’s efforts to hide her boyfriend’s presence from Jerry being foiled by the dog (it’s apparently the dog from The Thin Man incidentally). There’s Lucy masquerading as Jerry’s sister and gleefully wrecking his chances of marriage with a rich heiress. There’s Jerry and Lucy having fun with a couple of hapless motorcycle cops.
I hadn’t seen much of Irene Dunne’s work prior to this. I wasn’t sure about her at first but once I got used to her she won me over completely. It hardly needs to be said that Cary Grant was a delight.
Pure movie fun.