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 zesty time for comedies many actors and actresses saw their careers flourish including screen legend Cary Grant. In “My Favorite Wife” Grant matches wits with Irene Dunne in what is a shining example of what makes this hysterical sub-genre so attractive.
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 most screwball comedies the harmony doesn’t last long. You see, Ellen isn’t really 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. Of course he drags things out leading to one comedic complication after another. And there you have 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 smart, crafty and it avoids the annoyances found in many of today’s “comedies”. The film is plump with great scenes and hilarious lines. 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 grumbling and impatience. It’s a perfect tablesetter for the fun and playful tone that carries through the rest of the picture.
Of course a movie likes this has to have good performances from capable leads. I’ve already talked about Cary Grant and as expected he is fabulous. He has his usual charisma and that impeccable comedic timing he would become known for. But the real star just may be Irene Dunne. Some have called Dunne the greatest actress to never bring home an Oscar. Watch her here and you’ll get it. She matches Grant line for line and gag for gag. Randolph Scott and Gail Patrick are also a lot of fun in solid supporting roles.
“My Favorite Wife” is a really good film featuring 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 great screwball comedies of the time. And while I’ll admit that it may be missing that special ‘something’ that makes it truly great, I still think it’s a load of fun and it’s a movie that any lover of comedy should seek out.
VERDICT – 4 STARS