Directed by: Leo McCarey
Release Date: October 21, 1937
Running Time: 91 minutes
Rated: TV PG
Editor's Rating: **** (out of 4)
Filed under the heading, 'are they serious?' (good title for a remake) is where you could find the timeless comedy The Awful Truth. It's an improbable storyline filled with foolish pride and silly misunderstanding, inflated ego, competitive fire, ingenious slapstick and jealousy all attempting to trump true love. The Awful Truth is vintage romantic comedy.
Jerry and Lucy Warriner (Cary Grant, Irene Dunn) are a seemingly happy, but insecure couple. I suspect that the insecurity just naturally occurs in both parties, since we never really learn what led to it. That's not a spoiler, trust me. It doesn't matter how Jerry and Lucy became so mistrusting of one another, what makes this movie so special is watching them both act on it. The Awful Truth opens with Jerry working on his tan so that his wife is convinced he was actually in Florida - and actually doing what he told her he was. When he arrives home to an empty house, his mind wanders. Was his suspicion born out of his own guilt? Director Leo McCarey, who won the 1938 Oscar for Best Director of this film, masterfully conducts the script so that we really don't care what Jerry was up to. It's inconsequential.
What is huge is that Lucy returns home the next morning with an escort; her French, faux-riche buddy, Armond (Alexander D'Arcy). Her reason for sleeping away from home the entire night is a shaky story in Jerry's mind and 'It's my story and I'm sticking to it' in Lucy's. A display of grandstanding ensues and the couple finds themselves in divorce court for reasons that seem more fitting for a 21st century couple than one from the 1930's. A judge declares them divorced after a certain waiting period, with the only property fought over is the family dog.
The next several scenes are what make The Awful Truth 'must see' on every movie fan's list. Lucy moves in with her wealthy Aunt Betsy, brilliantly played by Cecil Cunningham, who in turn introduces Lucy to the oil-rich, Mamma's Boy Ben Leeson (played by Ralph Bellamy). Modern audiences may not recognize Bellamy's face at first sight, because he was so young, but his voice is unmistakable. Ben is a down-home country boy from Oklahoma, who lives with mom in the same building as Aunt Betsy. The Aunt Betsy/Ben first encounter is very funny.
Even more hilarious are the many attempts Jerry makes to sabotage Ben and Lucy's fledgling romance. A jazz club scene which is just plain mean, a business transaction between Jerry and Ben that showcases Cary Grant's perfect improv ability and a riotous moment involving a top hat and the dog as Lucy finds herself in a precarious situation.
The Awful Truth is the movie that is credited with launching Carey Grant into super-stardom, but it's Irene Dunn who shines brightest. So much so, she was recognized with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, a rare feat for an actor starring in a comedic part. Her sharp one-liners are perfect. I have no doubt there are many moments of ad-lib between she and Carey throughout this film. The non-verbal gestures also keep the script moving in hilarious ways. Pay special attention to Dunn’s hands when she introduces Jerry to Ben. It’s priceless.
If you've never seen this movie, you're in for something special; those of us who love to relive it always discover a new one-liner or sarcastic joke. In 2012, The Awful Truth is 75 years old and modern filmmakers continue to struggle to create works of comedic fiction that even come close to this masterpiece.
*I viewed this film via a DVD from my personal library*
Get Your Copy of The Awful Truth!
The Cary Grant Box Set (Holiday / Only Angels Have Wings / The Talk of the Town / His Girl Friday / The Awful Truth)