How can any true movie fan not love the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s? The once popular genre was recognized for its witty rapid-fire dialogue, wacky situations, bold and brash female leads, occasional slapstick humor, and a feverish battle of the sexes. During this wonderful time for comedies many actors and actresses saw their careers flourish including Cary Grant. In “My Favorite Wife” Grant matches wits with Irene Dunne in what is a shining portrait of this great genre.
The movie starts with arguably the funniest courtroom scene ever filmed. Nick Arden (Grant) is before a judge seeking to have his wife Ellen (Dunne) declared legally dead after being missing at sea for seven years. He’s there with Bianca (Gail Patrick) who he plans to marry after the judge’s ruling. Everything goes as planned but as with all screwball comedies the harmony doesn’t last long. You see, Ellen isn’t dead and she shows up after being rescued from a deserted island.
When Ellen reveals herself to Nick things get pretty complicated. He’s crazy about her yet he doesn’t know how to end it with Bianca. It also doesn’t help that he’s a bit spineless and cowardly. He drags things out leading to one comedic complication after another. And that’s what makes this movie so great. The nutty situations, the back-and-forth banter, and the hilarious head-butting between the two leads.
One of the biggest strengths of “My Favorite Wife” lies in its screenplay. It’s sharp, funny, and void of any of the trappings that befall many of today’s “comedies”. You’re always running across a great scene or hilarious line. For instance take the opening courtroom scene. Veteran character actor Granville Bates plays the grumpy and cantankerous Judge Bryson. He steals the scene with his growls and impatience. It’s a perfect tablesetter for the fun and playful tone that carries through the entire picture.
Of course a movie like this has to have good performances from capable talents who can pull it all off. I’ve already talked about Cary Grant and as expected he is fabulous. He has his usual charisma but he also shows off his impeccable comedic timing. But the real star just may be Irene Dunne. Dunne has been called the greatest actress to never bring home Oscar. Watch her here and you may understand why. She matches Grant line for line and gag for gag. She gives a great performance and steals one scene after another. Randolph Scott and Gail Patrick are also a lot of fun in solid supporting roles.
“My Favorite Wife” is a really good film. It features a sharp and sometimes corny wit and some really fun performances. Even though it was nominated for three Academy Awards, the film is rarely mentioned among the list of the great screwball comedies. And while I’ll admit that it may be missing that special ‘something’ which may hold it back, I still think it’s a great picture that any lover of comedy or movies should see.