23 October 2005

100 films: The Awful Truth

starring: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, and Cecil Cunningham
written by: Vina Delmar, based on the play by Arthur Richman
directed by: Leo McCarey
NR, 91 min, 1937, USA

"Well, let's drink to our future. Here's hoping you and Barbara will be very happy, which I doubt very much"

"No, let's drink to your happiness with Buffalo Bill, which doesn't even make sense."

A slight misunderstanding, based largely in truth, leads to the divorce of Lucy and Jerry Warriner (Irene Dunne and Cary Grant), but Jerry retains joint custody of the dog, Mr. Smith. On his court-ordered visitation day he learns of a budding romance with Oklahoma oil magnate Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy) and naturally makes it his goal to undermine the impending marriage. She, in turn, does the same to him and in the process they rediscover how they fell for each other in the first place.

It's awfully hard to dislike a screwball Cary Grant comedy and The Awful Truth is no exception. Ralph Bellamy gives a great performance as the rival suitor who has no idea just how far out of his element he really is, and Leo McCarey won an Oscar for his direction, but this is clearly Cary Grant's film. The rapport he shares with Irene Dunne is the foundation upon which the whole thing relies. If there ever was a love/hate relationship, this would serve as the template.

Cary Grant always struck me as the kind of actor who you could just put in front of a camera and let it run, trusting that he'd be able to keep the attention of the audience just by the sheer force of his charisma. Irene Dunne had a similar talent, but in a much more understated way. It takes her a bit to really get going, but once she hits her stride, she owns the screen. There are moments where you even forget Cary Grant's there. In the history of film there are precious few actresses who could accomplish that seemingly small feat, but she does it. Impressive indeed.


mickrect said...

So how do you feel about "Total Film" claiming "Goodfellas" as the King of All Movies (followed by "Vertigo" and "Jaws")?

Fourth place was "Roadhouse" with Patrick Swayze...I'm kidding, actually it was "Fight Club."

lucas said...

hmmm...i'd put godfellas in maybe the top 50 along w/ vertigo in that range, 'jaws' in the 200-250 range, and 'fight club' in the 200-250 range, so it seems like a pretty crappy statement for them to make.

lucas said...

of course, it would help if i spelled 'goodfellas' correctly.

mattreed said...

Even after I saw about 5 screwball comedies, I didn't realize until I listened to the "The Lady Eve" commentary that nearly every one revolves around a marriage falling apart and coming back together, so much so that the genre is sometimes called "Comedy of Remarriage." This one is no different, of course. Still, there were a lot of things about this movie I didn't like (though, I liked it a lot better than "Bringing up Baby"). For Cary Grant screwball comedies, The Philadelphia Story is certainly the best. And my favorites in the genre are My Man Godfry, Trouble in Paradise, and The Lady Eve.

lucas said...

let's not forget that the Awful Truth pre-dates nearly all of those by a couple of years, which is an important detail.

for my money, though, nothing beats His Girl Friday, although the Philadelphia Story is very close (and maybe better, depending on my mood)

mattreed said...

Oh. I forgot about His Girl Friday. You are right on that.

lucas said...

according to my quasi-chronological approach, His Girl Friday should be soon.

by the way, you really should start on the 100, i'm having a hell of a lot of fun.