The Awful Truth – Day Thirteen – #40movies#40days
The Awful Truth is a 1937 screwball comedy film starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) returns home from a trip to find his wife, Lucy (Irene Dunne), is not home. When she returns in the company of her handsome music teacher, Armand Duvalle (Alexander D’Arcy), he learns that she spent the night in the country with him, after his car supposedly broke down. Then, Lucy discovers that Jerry hadn’t gone to Florida as he had claimed. Mutual suspicions result in divorce proceedings. The film follows the great lengths the couple goes to to ruin each other’s post-separation romantic escapades.
Lucy: It’s enough to destroy one’s faith, isn’t it?
Jerry: Oh, I haven’t any faith left in anyone.
Lucy: I know just how you feel.
Jerry: What do you mean?
Lucy: (She tosses the “California” marked orange at him and he notices his incriminating mistake.) You didn’t happen to mention in any of your letters what a terrible rainy spell they were having in Florida. The papers were full of it.
Jerry: Well, I can explain that, Lucy.
Lucy: You can?
Jerry: And don’t try to change the subject. You think a great offense is a great defense. Don’t try to justify your behavior by insinuating things about me.
Lucy: But I haven’t any behavior to justify. I’ve just been unlucky, that’s all. You’ve come home and caught me in a truth and it seems there’s nothing less logical than the truth.
Jerry: Hmm, a philosopher, huh?
Lucy: You don’t believe me.
Jerry: Oh, how can I believe you? The car broke down. People stopped believing that one before cars started breaking down.
Lucy: Well, his car’s very old.
Jerry: Well, so’s his story.
Writer/director Peter Bogdanovich has noted that after this movie, when it came to light comedy, “there was Cary Grant and everyone else was an also-ran.” McCarey is largely credited with concocting this persona, and the two men even shared an eerie physical resemblance.
Grant fought hard to get out of the film during its shooting, since McCarey seemed to be improvising as he went along. Grant even wanted to switch roles with co-star Ralph Bellamy.
Although this initially led to hard feelings, it didn’t prevent other McCarey-Grant collaborations, My Favorite Wife (1940), Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), and An Affair to Remember (1957), from being made later.
The continuing relationship was probably based on Leo McCarey winning the 1938 Academy Award for Best Director for The Awful Truth. It also received a nomination for Best Picture, Irene Dunne was nominated for Best Actress, Ralph Bellamy for Best Supporting Actor and Viña Delmar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was a box office smash.
The Awful Truth is one of a series of films that the philosopher Stanley Cavell calls “comedies of remarriage”, where couples who have once been married, or are on the verge of divorce, etc., rediscover that they are in love with each other, and recommit to the idea of marriage.
Other examples include The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday, both released in 1940 and both starring Grant, and the Noel Coward play and film Private Lives. The original template for this kind of comedy is Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Although the Character Types in each of these films are different they are all in the same situation. You rarely see this type of “rediscovering love” comedy any more.
Many of the classic screwball comedies of this era are based on the predicaments of people who are too clever and witty for their own good. In the beginning of the story, they outsmart themselves and then have to untangle the wounded feelings, misunderstandings and ego problems that ensue. Foolish pride gets in way and the situation escalates.
The thing that struck me was the sparkle of wit and intelligence that characterized this film and the “golden era” of romantic comedies. Everyone in the film is an adult. Today comedies so often feature a man-child, who is a bit of slob and adolescent in behavior or lacking responsibility or commitment, but who somehow gets the gorgeous girl anyway. Where have all the adult men gone in comedies today?
For me The Awful Truth is a comedic lesson on how quickly a situation spins out of control when we are blinded by jealousy, pride and our own vanity. It’s a lesson I have to learn over and over.