(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by this Friday. Will she make it? Keep following the site to find out!)
First released way back in 1937, The Awful Truth is one of the most delightful comedies that I’ve ever seen. In fact, if I could recommend one movie for you to make an effort to see, it would be The Awful Truth. This is definitely the best film to ever have the word “awful” in the title.
(Speaking of being the best, The Awful Truth is also the rare screwball comedy to receive a nomination for best picture. However, it lost to the far more serious The Life of Emile Zola.)
Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy Warner (Irene Dunne) are young, married, stylish, and rich. They seem to have it all but, as the result of Jerry’s lies and a misunderstanding concerning Lucy and her music teacher (Alexander D’Arcy), they end up getting a divorce. Fortunately, they still share a common bond. They both love their dog, Mr. Smith (played by Skippy, the same adorable and incredibly talented dog who played Asta in The Thin Man). Lucy wins custody of Mr. Smith and takes him with her when she moves in with her eccentric Aunt Patsy (Cecil Cunningham).
(It’s not a screwball comedy without an eccentric aunt.)
Jerry, however, has weekly visitation rights with Mr. Smith. It’s during once such visit that Jerry discovers that, with only two months to go before the final divorce decree, Lucy has become engaged to her next door neighbor, Dan (Ralph Bellamy). Dan is from Oklahoma and spends most of his time wistfully talking about tumbleweed, oil, and cattle. He also can’t wait to marry Lucy so that they can both move back to Oklahoma City. Dan is a nice guy but he’s no Cary Grant. (He’s also dominated by his judgmental mother.) Realizing that he still loves Lucy, Jerry wants to reconcile with her but complications and misunderstandings ensue.
(It’s not a screwball comedy without complications and misunderstandings.)
Eventually, in order to prove that he is over Lucy, Jerry starts to date a vacuous heiress, Barbara Vance (a hilariously shallow performance from Molly Lamont). Suddenly, Lucy finds herself in the same situation that Jerry was in with her and Dan. Now, it’s her turn to try to break up Barbara and Jerry…
Meanwhile, the day of the final divorce decree approaches…
There’s a lot of reasons to love The Awful Truth. There’s the snappy dialogue, the physical comedy (at one point, three different men are scurrying around Aunt Patsy’s apartment, two trying to hide from each other and one totally oblivious to everything going on around him), and Leo McCarey’s fast paced direction. There’s Mr. Smith, a dog so talented that even a confirmed cat person like me loved watching his performance. There’s the wonderful supporting turns of Ralph Bellamy and Molly Lamont.
But the main reason to see the film is because of the wonderful chemistry between Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Grant is so smooth and effortless in his charm that it’s a lot of fun to watch him having to deal with the progressively strange world that he finds himself living in. The Awful Truth works best when Grant simply reacts to all the craziness around him. Grant could do more with one look than most actors could do with a Shakespearean monologue. Meanwhile, Irene Dunne … well, who wouldn’t want to get in a time machine, go back to 1937, and be Irene Dunne for a day? She’s lively, she’s beautiful, she’s witty, she’s classy, and she’s just neurotic enough to be relatable.
The Awful Truth is pure joy. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. If you have seen it, watch it again.