Thursday, April 4, 2013

Awful Truth, The (1937)

Director: Leo McCarey


Irene Dunne and Cary Grant star in a screwball comedy that entrenched the two into the realm of comedies for the remainder of their carriers. The heralded songbird and the English born actor who changed his name and desperately attempted to find his niche in movies come through with a major hit that stands as one of the finest movies of the year and one of the best American comedies of all time.

The Awful Truth is a comedy of a married couple who over minor fits of stubbornness set to divorce and are determined to ruin each other’s new romantic escapades. Returning home from leisure trip Jerry (Cary Grant) finds his wife, Lucy (Irene Dunne), in the company of her handsome music teacher Armand (Alexander D’Arcy). Stubborn with the idea Lucy was having an affair in his absence their lovers’spat turns to divorce proceedings. Lucy moves out and becomes engaged to her new neighbor, Oklahoma oil man Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy), more or less out of spite to show Jerry how happy she is without him, although it not being true. Jerry too has his ruse relationships with the likes of entertainers and socialites while both Jerry and Lucy hilariously attempt to sabotage each other’s escapades through small humiliating moments. In time both come to realize that they are still in love, and with another situated moment by Lucy, they finally end up back together one day before the divorce is to be final.

The picture makes for a rather hilarious tale with some wonderful moments of comedic brilliance. From one liners, jabbing comments, and comedic situations the film on whole makes for a very entertaining motion picture worthy of all the honors it would receive in its time.

Director Leo McCarey would go at making the picture in an interesting manner, primarily improvising the film and its dialogue as he went along. This was done so to make the picture seem fresh and witty, with off the cuff remarks and timed moments of hilarity. Cary Grant would find this style of filmmaking unnerving, feeling so uneasy about the role and the film that he practically begged to be released from the picture, or at least change roles with Ralph Bellamy. Lucky for the film McCarey stuck to his guns and produced one of the funniest pictures of the decade. McCarey would even go on to win the Academy Award for best director for his work in the film, although at the ceremony Leo would proclaim he should have been given the award for what he claimed to be his finest work, the drama Make Way for Tomorrow, released earlier in the year.

It was known Cary Grant felt uneasy about the process of McCarey, and would decide to play the part with mannerisms he mimicked from thedirector he questioned, whom he shared a likeness with. Little would he know that this style of character would turn out to produce such a successful picture and transform him into a major leading man in comedies for many years come. It was the beginning of a new persona for the actor and set in motion one of the greatest runs of any actor at any time in cinema history as Cary Grant would begin to be cast in back-to-back successful comedies for the coming time, including the likes of Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, and My Favorite Wife. Grant was now on the fast track as one of Hollywood’s all time greatest loved actors.

Irene Dunne, unlike Grant, embraced the comedy and went with the direction she was given. It produced one of the most vibrant and loose performances ever seem out of Dunne. The part went with a few moments of her singing, the most popular aspect of her career at that time, but it was performed in the light of comedic build on the story as she replays her own version of a musical number seen earlier in the picture at one point, one that was known to embarrass Grant’s character Jerry. Dunne would be nominated for best actress for her performance that year. The genre really opened up Dunne’s acting skill and her chemistry with Grant would be so well embraced that the two would be paired up in three more future comedies in the near future.

Also nominated for an Academy Award was supporting actor Ralph Bellamy. Playing the role of a naive country businessman competing with the more sophisticated Cary Grant, Bellamy becomes a fine character to bounce jokes off of as he plays the more laid back simpleton rather well. Bellamy to would gain his own success form the work in the picture, finding himself too paired again with Grant in the future in other romantic comedies as they both surround women in the plot.

As seen The Awful Truth was a well received picture of its time and enjoyed by audiences and critics alike. Apart from the before mentioned Academy Award nominations, the film was also up for best screenplay and best picture that year, a honor well earned. Surprisingly the premise of The Awful Truth is one that had been produced twice beforehand by Hollywood, once as a silent film and later as a little known earlier talking picture. The story would be remade into a color feature in 1953’s Let’s Do It Again, starring Jane Wyman and Ray Milland.

Time would be kind to the production of The Awful Truth garnering the honors of being named to the National Film Registry in 1996, as well as being named to AFI’s lists of Top Laughs (#68) in 2000 and Top Passions (#77) in 2002. Proving to be one of the more beloved comedies of all time the picture stands well still with contemporary audiences and continues to find new fans of the film with each new generation of cinema lovers.

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