Most romantic film #29: The Awful Truth (1937)

Another screwball romantic comedy, The Awful Truth is the first of three pictures starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as leads. I think it is their best.

Grant and Dunne play Jerry and Lucy Warriner, a married couple. In the first scenes of the movie, we discover that Jerry told Lucy he had been to Florida for work, but in reality had stayed in town: the suggestion is that he was seeing nother lady. at the same time, Jerry returns “from Florida” to find that Lucy has been out all night with her handsome voice teacher because the car broke down: the inference is that it did, indeed, break down, but nonetheless Jerry is suspicious and jealous.

They divorce, and share custody of Mr. Smith, their dog. Lucy becomes engaged to her neighbor, Dan who is an oil man from Oklahoma (played by Ralph Bellamy). More confusion abounds when Lucy “gets caught” with both her ex-husband (Grant) and the voice teacher in her apartment by Dan and his mother.

Jerry becomes engaged to heiress Barbara. Lucy, jealous herself, crashes a party at Barbara’s parents mansion, but dressed as a showgirl and claiming to be Jerry’s sister. Lucy undermines all Jerry’s stories about himself, gets drunk, and completely sabotages Jerry’s relationship. On the way back to New York, Lucy’s antics get them picked up by the cops and drop them off at Lucy’s aunt’s cabin.

The comedy is farcical and witty at the same time. These are sophisticated people making fools out of themselves because of jealousy and suspicion, but ultimately, they also love each other. The actors in this piece, from supporting roles to leads, are beautifully cast and the ensemble collectively smashing.

Bellamy is brilliant in what I would consider his signature role, he slightly naive fiance or boyfriend who unwittingly competes with the sophisticated ex-lover or husband for the lady’s attention: Bellamy can play a likable rube with charm and great timing. Cecil Cunningham as Lucy’s aunt and Esther Dale as Dan’s mother play the urban/country bookends of older women’s character roles, both perfect. Cunningham is as sophisticated as Dale is unpolished, and their support for the Grant-Dunne-Bellamy triangle is superb.

This is the kind of comic role Grant became famous for, one of the shades of it anyway. He does it again in His Girl Friday and The PhiladelphiaStory, where the characters are the slight more shady and slightly more polished brothers of Jerry Warriner. Dunne is charming and smart, with great clothes, hats, and furs. Her Lucy is sharp and likable.

The film is romantic, charming, and in fact a realistic look at marriage between to real people, not Hollywood fairy stories. You might not always feel comfortable with their antics, but you’ll enjoy them. A good laugh, and an interesting take on love and marriage.

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