The Awful Truth (1937)

Directed by Leo McCarey

Take an affluent couple with little regard for anything but themselves, pit them against each other, and you get The Awful Truth, a genuinely great screwball comedy.

Late in the movie, Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) quotes back to her husband Jerry (Cary Grant) his own words:

Lend me an ear, I implore you, this comes from my heart:
I’ll always adore you, till death do us part.”

While it may not be great poetry, it succinctly states the theme of the film.

The Warriners are social gadflies, each apparently going his or her own way with little regard for anything else around them, including each other. (However, this may be more true of Grant’s character than Dunne’s.)

As the movie begins, it turns out Grant’s character has been deceiving his wife. He’s a bit of a cad, a bit of a philanderer. He was supposed to be in Florida but wasn’t – he was off having fun elsewhere.

Irene Dunne as Lucy Warriner, Asta as Mr. Smith and Cary Grant as Jerry Warriner.

He takes pains to keep this from her.

As it turns out, when he returns home he finds she is not there.

He’s disappointed by this and a little put out. It’s okay for him to deceive his wife – but her deceive him? He’s outraged.

When she arrives, he only hears part of her story. He jumps to conclusions: he assumes she’s having an affair with her music teacher. An argument ensues and it leads (rather quickly, I might add) to divorce proceedings.

Now the fight is on. Through the rest of the movie, they battle back and forth, trying to get one another jealous, each trying to best the other.

They get so caught up in their fight, they don’t imagine what the actual consequences will be.

It’s only when each starts to realize the end result, the other’s removal from their life, that they start getting doubts.

The above sounds much more serious than it plays. The film is supremely funny. The lines are quick and witty and Grant’s pratfalls are perfect.

The Warriners arriving at a rapprochement.

The supporting cast, including Ralph Bellamy (who again gets to play a dull, nice guy – as he would later in 1940’s His Girl Friday), are tremendous and truly add to the film (they always do in films of that period).

The chemistry between Grant and Dunne is wonderful. She meets and plays off of his quickness and facial expressions with great skill and ease. She often gets the best of him in a scene. They seem made for each other.

If there is any flaw in The Awful Truth it may be the ending, which may be a tad too sentimental. It works, but it nudges at that fine line.

If, like me, you love screwball comedies this movie is a must. It’s definitely one of the better ones. Highly recommended.

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