Monday, February 27, 2012

My Favorite Wife

Our magnificent leads in a publicity clinch   

Release date 05.17.1940

"Oh, by the way... how was my funeral?"
"Lovely! Dr. Blake preached a wonderful sermon."
"Oh, I wish I've been there!"

After seven years, Nick Arden (Cary Grant) has his wife Ellen (Irene) who allegedly drowned at sea declared legally dead because he wants to marry Bianca (Gail Patrick). Shipwrecked and by an off course boat rescued Ellen returns just in time to thwart the honeymoon. She follows the newlyweds in their hotel and as soon as Nick lays his eyes on her again he is sure that she is still the one and only. 

Who on earth is Bianca??

But how to break the news to Bianca who is preparing for the wedding night upstairs? "Sorry, marriage is off!" probably won't do ... poor Nick wanting to do the right thing for everybody just doesn't come around to utter the adequate words. Ellen decides to give him some more time and to billet on her own family as an "old friend from the South." 

"Hey Nicolas, honey!"

This not only gives her the opportunity to keep an eye on Nick and Bianca but to get acquainted with her two kids who are too young to remember her. When the right time comes, she'll tell Tim (Scotty Beckett) and Cinch (Mary Lou Harrington) that she is their mother. 
Probably even this confusing situation would be settled soon, if Nick wouldn't learn that Ellen was not alone on her island. She was kept company by handsome Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott) - quite an "Adam" to Ellen's "Eve". The second round in the battle of sexes begins ... 

Adam, Eve and Nick

"My Favorite Wife" always does the trick for me - it makes me laugh and puts me in a light-hearted mood, which is certainly something very nice and pleasant to write about a film . The story is not exactly believable - not even Irene Dunne would look like Irene Dunne anymore after seven years on a desolate island, especially considering Irene's delicate skin - and Nick's and Bianca's relationship is kind of odd from the beginning. That guy doesn't have to think for a second to give her the boots, but, well , if somebody can make this plausible, it's Irene Dunne! However, this rather silly story provides the most wonderful vehicle for all kind of absurd, madcap situations, is nicely spiced with slapstick elements and handled by a cast in a genial mood. 

The radiant Irene

According to La Dunne, the idea behind "My Favorite Wife" was a sort of sequel to "The Awful Truth" which makes absolute sense and turns the last ten minutes when Irene once again ends seductively lolling in bed into an appropriate quotation. Because of an accident Leo McCarey was not in charge of the direction - this task went to the more than capable Garson Kanin - but produced "My Favorite Wife" and was in general around. Though not as sophisticated as its predecessor - the dialogue in "The Awful Truth" is simply wittier - they are both obviously products of the same spirit. 
Thus our protagonists pick up where they left off; mumbling there, come-hither glances here, repartee back and forth, long talk short - onscreen chemistry in full swing. No wonder Cary Grant described acting with Irene Dunne more like a long flirtation than work.

Well, we already know each other...

One Cary Grant mystery for me is that he stumbles from one ridiculous situation into the other without ultimately making a fool of himself; the entire time he is still absolutely attractive, adorable and no irritation arouses why Ellen wants her hubby urgently back, although he's a little bit slow and complicated about the "Bianca issue". That Nicky beats her with her own weapons and gets her eventually with a laugh leads to a nice tied game, and they end in the room in which direction they were moving all along - the bedroom.

Let's be serious about life...

Irene has a field day as Ellen Arden jumping on the sofa for a "how to tell Bianca" rehearsal - one of my favorite scenes - parading her thick Southern accent, and ogling Cary's Nick - this intelligent and sexy lady knows how to handle the male species! Quite wonderful about Irene's presentation is that she consequently seems to share her amusement with us. She had anyway a tendency to "tongue in cheek" performances - something which was not always appreciated by the critics, but an important reason why I love actress Dunne - and Irene's Ellen is the mistress of this tone. She obviously enjoys the situation - at least partly - which makes us accomplices because we share some fun while the other parties concerned still have to fight  the absurdity of life. When the script asks for some sentiment - for instance the scene in which Ellen tells her kids about her true identity - Irene quickly switches back to the general mood which defines her characterization. Her Ellen embraces the absurdity of her situation and laughs about it, which is almost irresistible. Anyhow, who does not want to share complicity with Miss Dunne? 

...but not heavy about it!

Beyond enjoying the cooperation with Cary Grant and Leo McCarey, Irene had another valuable reason to like this film - and as we know by now, she was a little bit particular about her pictures - but this one made her list because she liked the performances of the bit players. Especially the hotel clerk (Donald MacBride), the judge (Granville Bates) and the little shoe salesman (Chester Clute) create real showpieces. Their roles are almost more grateful than the parts of Gail Patrick and Randolph Scott, and if I regret anything about this film, it's the fact that two scenes were cut that probably would have been a chance for these two actors to show some more of their competent presence.

 Okay, Irene, you got me! Once again!!

"My Favorite Wife" this most delightful "prelude to a kiss" is one of my Dunne favorites and I bet this statement just took you entirely by surprise!