Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Awful Truth

The Warriners

Release date 10.21.1937

Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) allegedly back from Florida - he never left New York and we won't learn about the why and wherefore - is nonetheless slightly annoyed when he returns to an empyt apartment with a couple of friends. Where is his wife Lucy (Irene)? Entrance Lucy, surprisingly all dressed up and with her handsome singing teacher Armand (Alexander D'Arcy) in tow. Follows the well-known excuse of "the car broke down and we had to stay in an inn," and exactly when Jerry is on the brink to embark on an "I'm in the right" scene caused by jealousy, Lucy discovers that the oranges he brought her are not from Florida but from California! The hasty jump to conclusions of the Warriners ends with a divorce and a struggle about the custody for their dog, Mr. Smith.

arguing over Mr. Smith

Mr. Smith goes to Lucy with visitation rights for Jerry which means that he shows up frequently at Lucy's apartment. While waiting for her final decree, Lucy urged by her Aunt Patsy (Cecil Cunningham), starts dating wealthy Oklahoma farmer Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy). Unsophisticated Dan soon proposes and is accepted by Lucy thus bringing Jerry completely to the scene.

Dan enjoys a hearty laugh...

He does the best he can to disturb the ongoing courtship, and in the proceedings it becomes obvious that he and Lucy are still very attracted to each other. Being a woman and therefore quicker about such things, Lucy knows that she loves this lunatic soon-to-be ex-husband of hers, and we could be heading in the direction of a reconciliation, if Armand wouldn't enter the scene...
Well, completely fed up now, Jerry decides to look for other female company and before long, he is involved with rich socialite Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont). The three months are over, at midnight the decree will be final, and Lucy visits Jerry at his apartment for a last farewell - still hoping that it won't be the last, though.

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman...

Accidentally she picks up the phone, and to destroy the suspicions of his fiancĂ©e Jerry passes her off as his sister. Turns out this wasn't such a good idea, because "Sister Lola" gets an invitation to a dinner party at Barbara's parents' house. That's the chance Lucy waited for and she not only shows up, but gives the phrase "to be the heart and soul of a party" a new and very peculiar meaning. To rescue the situation, Jerry drags her out of the house, and taking advantage of the situation, Lucy presses every button to lure him into her bedroom before midnight...

Irene Lola Lucy in action!

Much of the action was improvised and director Leo McCarey wrote parts of the script directly on the set, which gives "The Awful Truth" an unbelievable fresh- and directness. Though he left his actors room for spontaneity, McCarey defenitely knew what he wanted and this shows. Additionally, he had - due to his training in his earlier films - a knack for slapstick, which makes this movie a splendid mixture of witty dialogue and almost banal humor. Bedroom farces, sitting on handkerchiefs, toppling over chairs or other madcap scenery are neither exactly new nor sophisticated but how these situations are handled ,and by whom, cracked even me up  - decidedly more on the verbal side of humor.

The Warriners - slightly seperated

"The Awful Truth", this story about two human beings who get into a divorce not to lose their face and have to make fools of themselves not to lose each other in the end, is a lot, a lot of fun. This exemplary representative of the screwball comedy genre gained Leo McCarey a Best Director Academy Award.
On the set of her second comedy, Irene met the first of her two favorite leading men - Cary Grant (the other one was soon to come Charles Boyer). And as she told in an interview: "We just worked from the first moment. He's a generous actor. He can afford to be, any man that gorgeous, and who'd watch little old me?" (interview with James Bawden) Anyway, "The Awful Truth" certainly offers enough good reasons to watch "little old me." It's Irene Dunne at her comedic best, in an with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress awarded performance, and if you want to know what all the fuss about her perfect timing is about, you just might watch this film. But of course, all of Irene's timing wouldn't work without someone like Cary Grant as counterpart - quite a master of timing himself that guy!

Little Ol' Me, Mr. Smith and Mr. Generous

If "The Awful Truth" is an example for timing it's as well an example for another difficult-to-explain-but-you-know-it-when-you-see-it term -- on-screen chemistry. Is it that the actors seem to be at ease with each other and at the same time there is an erotic tension? Is it repartee? Or simply bringing out the best as actors in each other? Seems to be all of this and a lot more!
However, what I simply love is Irene's and Cary's constant ogling each other. They react to their -once again expertly arranged entourage - and concurrently have a steady sort of private interaction going on. Irene Dunne and Cary Grant simply were a perfect match, last not least in their similar style of acting which looks so effortless and natural and was unfortunately of the Award Nominations amassing and not winning the statuette kind.
Those two human highlights are competently supported by Ralph Bellamy in one of these rather thankless  "the third part of a triangle" roles. But Mr. Bellamy - an utterly sympathetic actor - gives a charming performance, and his dance number with Irene, for which he had to practice a lot, is one of the (many) high points of the film.

Lucy and Dan trying a step or two...

Surprise, surprise! I love this film, and every time I watch it I discover a new facetious detail and an Irene qoute comes to mind: "It is difficult to make people laugh, but it is infinitely worthwhile. You have lengthened their lives, or you have made them happier, and that is important in itself."(The Sydney Morning Herald, June 1938) If this is true - and I have no reason to doubt Miss Dunne - I certainly owe Irene!

one of my favorite publicities
 Some last words about the core of this blog - the one and only Miss Dunne. I'm convinced that Irene could have managed a career without any comedy ventures. She already had her place in Hollywood, and could have gone on solely with melodrama and musical, but I certainly like how the comedies broadened her image. This new genre offered her the opportunity to show some more facets: her sense of humor, youthful lightness, this delighful playfulness and last not least the simple fact that she was indeed a dish. The days of philandering on-screen husbands and lovers are gone by now - no more fighting for men but with relish fighting with them. And sex appeal, humor, warmth, the most wonderful throaty laugh and the steady impression that this woman is up to something make quite a nice armory in the battle of sexes.

Good night!


  1. wunderbar!! I couldn't agree more. Long live "The Awful Truth", such a master piece!

  2. What an amazing review, Susanne. I almost feel that you had a special pleasure writing this. I know you write all your reviews with great pleasure. ;) But I feel a special thrill behind this. And yes, it's so true. The Awful Truth is perfection from beginning to end. I can't count anymore how often I've seen it. But even when I say I know the whole thing backwards... I'm amazed all the time that there are still small details which I haven't noticed before.
    It may be true that Irene was a star without her comedy performances... but I'm afraid she would be more forgotten as she already is today, wasn't it for these comedies which bring her back to people's attention. So, I'm very grateful that she tried this genre.... and proved to be the best as usual.
    And again I'm divided who's my favorite actor - Cary or Charles - may Charles forgive me when I say it's Cary - just now :) - things will look different when we're coming to Love Affair. But there will never be a doubt who my favorite actress is and that's much more important. :)
    Thank you, Susanne.

  3. Thank you! "A special thrill"? As you know, Irene said about "The Awful Truth": "I always enjoy it." Which is kind of thrilling in itself - considering La Dunne's strictness when it came to her films.Anyway, I felt a little bit more challenged than normally because this is certainly the most "represented" of Irene's films,but as things turned out it was a pleasure - and a lot of fun - to write this review. It's sort of idle to muse about the "could have beens" of Irene's career, and I certainly would miss her comedies, but I like to adjust the focus from time to time. I don't like it when Irene ends too quickly in the drawers "comedienne" and "lady." She was both - and a lot more. As for those two favorite leading men - I simply don't have to decide this! Irene didn't, and I won't! And why on earth should I? :-)

  4. Hi. This is my 1st time reading & writing as part of a blog. It is perfect that Irene Dunne & The Awful Truth are the subject matter. My family thinks I'm crazy because I watch The Awful Truth or Life With Father almost EVERY night! Your review of The Awful Truth was very good. Thanks so much for including the dialogue about things being the same and different as this is my FAVORITE part of the movie.

    Thank you so much for your Irene Dunne website. I'm happy to discover that there are other people who love and adore Irene Dunne as much as I. The site is great because you have a wealth of knowledge about Ms. Dunne. Thank you for taking the time to share it with me and other fans. Your work is much appreciated. BigDunneFan