Friday, 3 August 2012

The Awful Truth (1937)

Den frygtelige sandhed
Thank God for subtitles! A bit embarrassing for me to admit but sometimes I need that crutch. Some of the early talkies have so poor a sound quality that I can hardly hear what they are saying. Other movies are so dialogue based that missing just a few key sentences may ruin the entire movie. And then there are those with such a rapid fire exchange of wisecracks and comebacks that my feeble English skills simply cannot keep up without some help. “The Awful Truth” is such a movie.

This is by no means a complaint. The subtitles just allow me to enjoy the entire experience without the frustration of knowing that they just said something absolutely hilarious and I haven’t got a clue what it was.

In “The Awful Truth” I would not want to miss a single word.

The movie is a duel fought by in the blue corner Jerry Warriner alias Cary Grant and in the red corner Lucy Warriner alias Irene Dunne. From beginning to end these two are fighting a verbal war with no more apparent reason than not to be bested by the other.

It starts with a suspicion. Jerry comes home from Florida, but wherever he has been it has certainly not been Florida. Lucy is coming back in the company of an intolerable French singing teacher, Armand, and claims to have been stranded somewhere. Hmmm… There is only one way really this can go and it is going to be ugly. Instead it gets hilariously funny. Since none of them want to give in to the other they are soon separated and fighting a legal battle over their dog and visitation rights.

Every time they meet after this it is obvious that they love each other, yet they keep throwing quips at each other and try to make the other jealous. All the other characters are just tools and props they are using to get to each other.

To make Jerry jealous Lucy starts a relationship with hopelessly naïve and unsophisticated Dan Leeson, a loaded rancher from Oklahoma in town with his mother. Jerry sees right away that country-boy Dan is an awful match for Lucy and taunts her about it. It climaxes when Jerry and Armand, the singing teacher, is stuffed away in the bedroom because Dan and his mother are visiting. All hell breaks loose as everything that can go wrong does go wrong while Lucy is pretending everything is perfectly fine. This is laugh out loud funny!

Then it is Jerry’s turn. He gets involved with a girl of a posh family and seems to really getting along. Lucy, her own affair a complete disaster now, move into action with the dual purpose of sabotaging Jerry’s new relationship and getting him back. She shows up at a soirée hosted by the family in law and presents herself as the worst sort of hillbilly, flustering Jerry in the process. Again absolutely hilarious.

They keep falling into an intimacy of quips and comebacks that only a long term married couple can develop and even when they a spiteful or trying to be discrete they are being still being playful with each other and actually quite considerate.

Both have a ton of charm, both are flirtatious and both are completely nasty to each other. They are of course made for each other; they just have to realize it and dare to admit it to each other.

Leo McCarey got an Oscar as best director for “The Awful Truth”. He is supposed to have said that they gave it to him for the wrong picture, that it was “Make Way for Tomorrow” that deserved it. I do not agree. He should have gotten it for both. Even though these two movies are very different genres, they share his expert tough. In both movies we get really close to the characters so even when they do horrible things he does not sell them out. I think it speaks volumes of a director that he can get a masterpiece out of both a comedy and a tragedy.

Oh, and did I mention that Cary Grant is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors? This movie is often named as his breakthrough movie. From then on he could do nothing wrong. Cary Grant once said: “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant, even I want to be Cary Grant”.    


  1. Nice review! I can understand wanting subtitles on a movie like this; they talk so fast!

    This movie reminds me of a glass of champagne. It's fizzy and bubbly and light and fun. I love this one.

    Cary Grant is fabulous, always and forever!

    1. Yes, that is a very good image, exactly right.

  2. This is one of my all-time favorite screwball comedies. Irene Dunne was Cary Grant;s best on-screen partner, hands down. Like you, I am a big fan of Grant.

    1. Mine too. I truly love this movie. It takes two to tango and both Dunne and Grant were up to the task.