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Amnesia, often used as a device for heavy melodrama, is given a humorous spin inI Love You Again, a 1940 screwball comedy starring one of Hollywood'smost popular screen teams of all time. William Powell stars as an upright small-towncitizen, the very model of sobriety and civic responsibility, who receives a blowto the head and discovers he has been suffering from amnesia for nearly a decade.His true identity, it turns out, is a con man with a long history of scheming andscamming. Finding himself solidly in the money, he decides to keep up the pretenseof being the staid Rotary Club type long enough to take the money and run, but hesoon "meets" his wife (Myrna Loy). Although they fell in love and marriedduring his amnesiac phase, she has grown bored with being married to a stuffed shirtand plans to divorce him. He sets out to court her all over again, and she beginsto suspect his true identity. It all works out on the side of happily ever after,but not before another blow to the head adds a further twist to this wacky Jekyll-and-Hydetale.
The plot of I Love You Again was rather improbable, but audiencesdidn't mind a bit, as long as they could spend a couple of hours in the company of Loy and Powell. The two first acted together in Manhattan Melodrama(1934), with Loy playing the object of affection of both gangster Clark Gable andhis boyhood pal, district attorney Powell. But the true spark was ignited when theywere cast as the hard-drinking, bantering couple Nick and Nora Charles in the filmversion of Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man (1934). At this pointin her career, Loy had just recently begun to emerge from her early typecasting as exotic ethnic women - often playing femme fatales with names like Coco, Yasmaniand Mulatta - despite her background as a middle-class WASP girl from Montana. Withthe advent of sound she began to get better, more suitable roles as witty, modernurban women.
Powell had a long career stretching back to the early 1920s, generally as a slick,mustachioed sophisticate and occasional villain. He had begun to achieve stardomas the debonair sleuth Philo Vance in a series of pictures at Warner Brothers. Buttheir chemistry together as Nick and Nora and their easy handling of both the mysteryand comedy elements of Hammett's story brought them both to a new level and establisheda partnership that would span 13 years and 14 pictures, six of them in the Thin Man series alone. Director W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke, who first brought themtogether, directed them in six films, including I Love You Again.
When this picture was made, Powell was just bouncing back after a rough patch inhis life. While still grieving over the untimely death of his lover, Jean Harlow,in 1937, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Although he beat the disease, his recoveryand the emotional stress he suffered kept him off the screen for a year (which wasunusual in a time when stars typically cranked out multiple pictures annually). He re-emerged with his eighth teaming with Loy in Another Thin Man(1939), followed the next year by this successful marital comedy with its amnesiatheme.
Just prior to production on this movie, Loy had taken a brief vacation from her home studio, MGM, to visit Montana with her mother (and a break from her marriageto producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr., which was beginning to show signs of the discordthat would lead to a 1942 divorce). She returned from her trip expecting to beginwork on Joseph Mankiewicz's film adaptation of Robert Sherwood's hit play TheRoad to Rome. Clark Gable (another popular and frequent Loy co-star) wasto have played Hannibal, and Loy was looking forward to the role of the Roman senator'swife who beguiles him. But the play's anti-war message was considered a losing propositionfor a world plunged into conflict and a country on the verge of joining it, so theproject was scrapped. Instead, Loy found herself in this comedy, with the great compensation of working with Powell again. "I never enjoyed my work more thanwhen I worked with William Powell," she later said. "He was a brilliantactor, a delightful companion, a great friend and above all, a true gentleman."
The gentleman, however, was not above pulling a prank on his old friend to surpriseher for her birthday. Powell conspired with the director and crew to run the camerawith no film while he inexplicably began blowing his lines. Pretending to be rattledand in need of a private rehearsal, he pulled Loy to a corner of the big soundstage.As they approached a tall black canvas flat, it began to shake and looked like itwas falling towards them just as the lights suddenly went out. The terrified Loyscreamed in the blackness, but nothing happened. And when the lights came back onshe saw, where the flat had been, a decorated table with a huge birthday cake.
I Love You Again was such a success the studio decided to capitalizeon the formula by bringing Loy and Powell back together for Love Crazy(1941), in which he pretends to be insane in order to prevent their divorce.
Director: W.S. Van Dyke II
Producer: Lawrence Weingarten
Screenplay: Charles Lederer, George Oppenheimer, Harry Kurnitz
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh
Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: William Powell (Larry Wilson, aka George Carey), Myrna Loy (Kay Wilson), FrankMcHugh (Doc Ryan), Edmund Lowe (Duke Sheldon), Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer(Leonard Larkspur, Jr.).
BW-100m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon