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Poker player Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) isn't telling his wife Lucy (Irene Dunne) the whole truth when he informs her he is taking a short holiday to Florida...then doesn't believe Lucy when she arrives home late with her handsome singing teacher (Alexander D'Arcy) after his car breaks down. Both assuming the other has been unfaithful, the Warriners file for divorce and are soon stepping out with new partners. Trouble is that Lucy and Jerry are still in love, but while they are loath to admit it they are not prepared to let anyone else come between them before their vows take their final bow.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
When it came to comic timing, Cary Grant thought that no actress could compare with Irene Dunne and when during the making of Talk Of The Town director George Stevens spoke of Jean Arthur as "one of the greatest comediennes the screen has ever seen" the others included Dunne whom he had worked with the year before on Penny Serenade (1941). Nowadays, it comes as a bit of a shock to realise the awful truth...that the funny femmes of the screen are a moribund species. Gone are the icons of Hollywood's Golden Era: Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard, Mae West, Arthur and Dunne. Their successors, Madeline Kahn, Phyllis Diller, Lily Tomlin and Cloris Leachman (ah, Young Frankenstein!) were underused and undervalued; perhaps the same can be said for Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn. There are fragmentary flourishes from Lisa Kudrow baring her neuroses, Meg Ryan faking an orgasm and Cameron Diaz on a bad hair day but who can we depend on?

The point is that experiencing the present makes you revel in the past when Irene Dunne (in the third of her five Oscar nominations) sparked more laughs from a simple shimmy in The Awful Truth than maybe Whoopi Goldberg did in the worst half-dozen films bearing her name. But before we get to that exquisite shimmy, Dunne snaps, crackles and pops a few corks of champagne comedy with the impeccable Mr Grant when they decide to divorce after each is convinced they have caught the other in infidelities...he doesn't believe that her music teacher's car broke down and she has evidence that he didn't go to Florida after all. Based but embellished on the Broadway success of 15 years before, this is classic screwball comedy with serious if fundamental musings on the institution of marriage, like "you can't have a happy married life if you're always suspicious of each other."

Only a court battle over custody of the family pooch, Mr Smith (Asta, of Thin Man fame) binds the Warriners to their tenuous vows. On the rebound, Jerry has a fling with Southern show-gal Dixie Belle Lee (Joyce Compton) whose song, My Dreams Are Gone With The Wind, is sung with the breeze up her skirts to the embarrassment of everyone, while Lucy flirts with a foppish Oklahoma oil tycoon (Ralph Bellamy) whose idea of fun is standing round a piano reciting Home On The Range and even drearier ditties. In what was a virtual dress rehearsal for his later role in His Girl Friday, when he was again the victim of Grant's snide asides, the Oscar-nominated Bellamy is a wishy-washy "momma's boy" dominated by Esther Dale, that formidable fortress of matriarchy who so tormented Ma Kettle in many of her movies. Leo McCarey learned from Charlie Chaplin, Laurel And Hardy and The Marx Bros that classic comedy was spontaneous.

His breezy Oscar-winning direction allowed the actors the freedom to improvise and they respond with unscripted stutters, overlapping dialogue, muttered quips and throwaway lines, making them seem funnier than they are. Even the terrier gets into the act, with a vigorous scratch or two when you least expect him to. Hard to believe from the evidence here, but Grant was uncomfortable with McCarey's free-flowing style. He was so exasperated that he tried to switch roles with Bellamy and when that failed he offered to buy his way out of the picture.

Story wise, it's pretty obvious that Lucy and Jerry will be back together again by the last reel but the road to reconciliation (finally, a teasingly subtle and sexy scene in a windswept cabin in the woods) is a rollicking one. The most memorable moments include Jerry slyly alerting Lucy to the dubious joys of Oklahoma City and Mr Smith playing hide and seek with an incriminating derby hat. But the topper comes when Lucy, desperate to divert Jerry's increasing interest away from a snobby socialite, pretends to be Jerry's low-class sister...with a fondness for back slapping and booze and the tendency to shimmy like a common show girl during a vulgar reprise of Dixie Belle's quite appalling song. Filmed before as a silent in 1925 and again in 1929, this Oscar nominated 1937 version is far superior. In 1953, it was remade as a musical called Let's Do It Again with Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. They shouldn't have.

Published January 27, 2005

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(US, 1937)

CAST: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy


SCRIPT: Vina Delmar based on a play by Arthur Richman

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.33:1 full screen; languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Arabic, Dutch, Portuguese, Turkish

SPECIAL FEATURES: Bonus trailers

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Tri-Star

DVD RELEASE: December 15, 2004

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