Monday, April 26, 2010

Underrated Movie #64: Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)

Hitchcock Week: Day 2
Title: Mr. And Mrs. Smith
Year: 1941
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Norman Krasna
Stars: Carole Lombard, Robert Montgomery, Gene Raymond, Jack Carson

The Story: A bickering society couple discover that their marriage was never valid. He wants to have an affair with his own wife, but she kicks him out for “cheating” with her. Now he wants to win her back, especially after they both attract dismal new suitors...

How it Came to be Underrated: Screwball fans think of it as a Hitchcock film, and Hitchcock fans dismiss it as an oddity. I think it’s a great screwball and a great Hitchcock film. If Billy Wilder was allowed to make Double Indemnity, why couldn’t Hitchcock make this?

Why It’s Great:

  1. Hitchcock fell in love with Lombard, the original cool blonde, and she was more than happy to work for him, but she wouldn’t make a suspense movie. He agreed to try a straight comedy, just to get the chance to work with her. Lombard is so smart, funny and elegant that you instantly understand how she could get Hitch to change his ways. Tragically, they would never get to do it again, since she died the next year in a plane crash at age 33.
  2. The early scenes capture the bittersweet moment when couples realize how much they’ve changed together. Did my old clothes shrink while they were in the closet? Did our old favorite restaurant go downhill or did our tastes just get fancier? The scene where they suffer through a meal at a place where even the cats won’t eat the food is hilariously uncomfortable.
  3. Hitch is able to use some of the same tricks for comedy that he uses for suspense. Here’s a great way to build a scene: Establish that someone needs to hear somebody else say something. Then have the other person say a bunch of seemingly nice things, but not what that person wants to hear. We know that tension is building, but the person talking has no idea… until the explosion. Audiences love being put in an information-superior position.
  4. The scene where they both wind up on dates at the same nightclub is a masterful train wreck. I love the moment where he pretends the be dating the elegant blonde seated next to him, rather than the earthy dame he’s actually saddled with, who barks at her pheasant: “Oh, so you wanna wrestle, huh?”

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Lombard loved edgy comedy material. The same year, she made the great Nazi-Germany-set-screwball To Be Or Not To Be.

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD with a nice retrospective documentary featuring the always insightful Peter Bogdanovich.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Why Didn’t He Ask Me?

No comments: