Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Awful Truth (1937)
"I'm still in love with that crazy lunatic, and there's nothing I can do about it."- Lucy (Irene Dunne)
Stars: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne
Other Stars: Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D'Arcy, Cecil Cunningham
Director: Leo McCarey
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:30m:36s
Release Date: 2003-03-11
DVD ReviewJust what was it about the 1930s and 1940s that lent itself so well to screwball comedy? Well, I guess if that question had an easy answer, we wouldn't have had to suffer through movies like I Love Trouble or Melanie Griffith in Born Yesterday, more recent attempts to revive the spirit of those great knowing films of the Depression and World War II. Acting styles have changed, as have audience's expectations and our sexual mores, and the Hays code has been dismantled. All of those brought with them vital changes to American movies, but there's still something about the age of screwball that sings to us. For one thing, it was probably the best time to be an actress in Hollywood, for the studios weren't afraid to put women front and center—Carole Lombard, Rosalind Russell, Katherine Hepburn and others were terrific, smart, funny women on top.
The woman in question in The Awful Truth is the wonderful Irene Dunne, who (as you can see on the DVD case) receives top billing, over a fellow named Cary Grant. They're a well-matched pair, and this may have been Dunne's finest hour; the same could probably be said for director Leo McCarey, who won an Oscar® for his work here. Dunne and Grant play Lucy and Jerry Warriner, madcap New York couple, each merrily cheating on the other, and each with a nasty and hypocritical jealous streak. Jerry has allegedly been in Florida for two weeks—his exact whereabouts during that time are not made clear, but when we meet him, he's logging time under a sun lamp, to sport a tan to help with his alibi. (That's his story, and he's sticking to it.) Jerry comes home one morning to find his wife just arriving herself, in an elegant gown, accompanied by her dapper singing coach, M. Duvalle. Those French are ever so sophisticated about things like adultery, but when it comes to his own wife, Jerry is not.
In a fit of pique, the Warriners vow to get divorced, and the legal separation is amicable, but for one issue: custody of Mr. Smith, one of the cutest, smartest dogs in screen history, an appropriate playmate for Nick and Nora Charles's Asta. Lucy gets the dog, and also a new next-door neighbor: Oklahoma oilman Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy), who has a fortune, a thing for Lucy, and a nosy mother in tow. Will Lucy marry Dan and pack up for Oklahoma City? Of course, New York is where she'd rather stay. (She gets allergic smelling hay.)
As many film professors have pointed out (including Maria Dibattista, in her smart book, Fast-Talking Dames), screwball comedies are almost always comedies of remarriage. It can seem tame to us these days, but it made for some rather racy cinema in the 1930s—the women in these movies weren't virginal ingénues, but knowing, experienced women of the world. Of course, we know as audience members that the only appropriate match for Lucy is Jerry, that Dunne and Grant will find a way to get back together—the pleasure of watching a movie like this is not in anticipating the outcome, but in enjoying the ride.
And it's a terrific one. The Awful Truth embraces the true ethos of screwball, in that it works on all comic levels—the dialogue is smart, quick and funny, but its cosmopolitan air doesn't mean that it's above the shtick of silent pictures, and the pratfalls and other physical bits remain hilarious. (This is just a decade after the coming of talkies, after all.) The performers are more than equal to the task, too—Dunne and Grant display not only tremendous verbal dexterity, but they're also great physical comedians, and inhabit their characters so completely that their subtext is abundantly clear at all times, even when their thoughts aren't expressed in their words. Ralph Bellamy is an especially good foil, too, in a role similar to one he'd play three years later in another marvelous Cary Grant picture, His Girl Friday.
Also worth noting are the fine production elements, especially in the ravishing costume and production design—the magnificent hats and fur muffs, the friezes on the elevators and clocks remain something to behold, and must have been absolutely transporting when this film came out, at the nadir of the Depression. And all this in an hour and half!
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: It seems as if the source print has suffered pretty badly with the years—the ill effects of bacteria on the nitrate print are all too readily evident, and though this is a terrific movie, from the studio's standpoint, it obviously didn't justify the full-boat restoration that we've seen on DVDs like Sunset Boulevard and Lawrence of Arabia. So the transfer itself makes the best of things, but the film just isn't as sparkling as it must have been in 1937.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Good news for the ears—this is one of the better-sounding films of its period that you'll find on DVD. The dialogue is all readily comprehensible, even when the actors are going at full speed and overlapping, and there's little hissing, crackle or any other sort of interference.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Born Yesterday, It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday
Extras Review: All you'll find is generous chaptering and trailers for a trio of worthy classic Columbia comedies.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsIn some respects, they truly don't make them like they used to, and The Awful Truth is an instance of that—a smart, funny, sexy comedy that doesn't shy away from pratfalls or other low humor. Screwball is gone and isn't coming back, sadly—all the more reason to savor one of the gems of the period on DVD.
Jon Danziger 2003-03-09