Sunday, September 04, 2011

Underrated Movie #130: My Favorite Wife

Title: My Favorite Wife
Year: 1940
Garson Kanin
Bella and Sam Spewack and Leo McCarey
Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott, Gail Patrick

The Story: Seven years after his wife disappeared in a shipwreck, a meek lawyer is about to marry again to a cold new wife, but on his wedding day, his first wife shows up, alive after all, and determined to win him back. He’s ready to switch back, until he finds out that she was alone on an island with hunky Randolph Scott for all those years…

How it Came to be Underrated: This was one of those “Let’s do it again!” movies which reteamed Grant and Dunne a few years after The Awful Truth with a very similar story (and an identical third act). This movie has never quite emerged from the shadow of its more self-assured precursor.

Why It’s Great:

  1. This movie is best remembered by those who believe the rumors that Grant and Scott were more than roommates when they lived together. I don’t think we’ll ever really know, but viewed through that lens, this movie become that much more hilarious, as Grant gets a good look at his rival and then endlessly obsesses about Scott’s athletic prowess. Were they intentionally poking fun at the backstage rumors? We can only guess.
  2. But one thing this movie definitely shows is that it’s a shame that Scott didn’t make more comedies, since he shows off a huge amount of charm and understated good humor. Too handsome for his own good, he was consigned to playing rock-jawed do-gooders in bland westerns (“You’d do it for Randolph Scott!”), until Budd Boetticher finally realized he was a great actor and cast him in a series of much darker westerns at the end of his career.
  3. At the time, Dunne, not Hepburn or Stanwyck, was considered the queen of screwball, but she’s no longer a household name, which is a shame. Indeed, even more than Grant, one look at her effortlessly ebullient sophistication lets you see where the whole genre sprang from. (Part of the reason for her failure to stay in the public imagination may be because she was ironically quite a stick-in-the-mud conservative in real life, but so was Barbara Stanwyck, and that hasn’t hurt her rep.)
  4. If you’re one of those people who can’t stand those comedies that could end the mix-up with a simple explanation at any time, you might want to stay away. I do wish I could give the script one last pass to make it clear that the new wife bullied Grant into declaring his missing wife dead. That would keep us from sympathizing with her plight and also help explain why Grant just can’t bring himself to tell her what’s really going on, but oh well… the delightful performances steamroll over the tone problems and elevate this to greatness.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Garson Kanin is better remembered today as a writer than a director. He and his wife Ruth Gordon (Maude from Harold and Maude) co-wrote great movies about bickering couples like Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike... until they stopped co-writing for the sake of their own marriage!

How Available Is It?: It’s got a nice-looking DVD without much in the way of features.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Happy Labor Day, Everybody-- Thank a Union Organizer Today For This and Every Other Day Off!

1 comment:

j.s. said...

This one sounds pretty great. I'm a big fan of THE AWFUL TRUTH and of screwball comedies in general. In fact, I'm kind of perplexed that the so-called "comedy of remarriage" isn't more popular today. It seems to me to be the ideal state and highest aspiration of the romcom form.

Glad you mentioned Randolph Scott's Budd Boetticher Westerns, at least three or four of which are among the very best films ever made in the genre -- equal to the achievements of other masters like Ford, Mann and Peckinpah.