Next on the 1937 review list is Best Picture nominee...
The Awful Truth
(based on the play by Arthur Richman)
Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D'Arcy, Cecil Cunningham, Molly Lamont
1 win, for Best Director
A classic screwball comedy, The Awful Truth pits husband and wife, Jerry and Lucy Warriner (Grant & Dunne), against each other. It's that age-old battle that is fought between two people who are clearly meant for each other despite the fact they can't stand being in the same room together. The mistrust begins when Lucy spends an allegedly innocent night with her music teacher (D'Arcy), while Jerry is caught in a lie about where he spent his vacation. And that's all it takes for the two to begin divorce proceedings. But before the divorce is finalised, Lucy sparks up a romance with an oil tycoon (Bellamy), while Jerry hobnobs around with an heiress (Lamont). Each does all they can to sabotage the other's relationship with suitably screwball consequences.
The interesting thing about this genre is that rapid-fire humorous dialogue is only one of many comic devices that is utilised. Good screwball comedies will also contain a smattering of physical comedy and a whole host of situational comedy. The Awful Truth certainly delivers on all these fronts. The repartee is snappy, the pratfalls are silly and the situations are wacky. Top it all off with a heartwarming love story and it's understandable why this picture is often held up as a classic example of its genre.
There's one other class of comedy which, despite being a current trend in TV comedies, was perhaps not that prevalent back in the 1930s. Yet, The Awful Truth embraces the wonders that can manifest from awkward humour. Almost ahead of its time, this film treats us to the subtle embarrassed glances of eyes that don't know where to look during a nightclub singer's shockingly ridiculous act.
Another important element is the chemistry between its stars and, once again, The Awful Truth is not left wanting. For all intents and purposes, Cary Grant's charismatic on-screen persona began with his appearance in this film and it's no wonder he was so successful with it. He's charming, debonair and just cheeky enough to make you forgive him his flaws. Irene Dunne's infectiously cute laugh and playful intelligence are a delightful complement. Together, they bicker with such obvious jealousy that it just made me want to scream at them à la Kramer yelling at Jerry and Elaine (you'll need to scroll through to 3:15 to see the part I'm referencing).
The story is relatively simple and effective. It's a romantic comedy, after all - there's only really one way it can end. There are two main scenarios that play themselves out and they are clearly separated by the linear narrative. First, Jerry thwarts Lucy's plans of marrying again, and then Lucy retaliates in kind. It's almost like two distinct episodes of a sitcom. Not really a flaw, just a fascinating observation.