I Love You Again
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Amnesia, often used as a device for heavy melodrama, is given a humorous spin in I Love You Again, a 1940 screwball comedy starring one of Hollywood's most popular screen teams of all time. William Powell stars as an upright small-town citizen, the very model of sobriety and civic responsibility, who receives a blow to 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 and scamming. Finding himself solidly in the money, he decides to keep up the pretense of being the staid Rotary Club type long enough to take the money and run, but he soon "meets" his wife (Myrna Loy). Although they fell in love and married during his amnesiac phase, she has grown bored with being married to a stuffed shirt and plans to divorce him. He sets out to court her all over again, and she begins to 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-Hyde tale.
The plot of I Love You Again was rather improbable, but audiences didn'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 and his boyhood pal, district attorney Powell. But the true spark was ignited when they were cast as the hard-drinking, bantering couple Nick and Nora Charles in the film version of Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man (1934). At this point in 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, Yasmani and Mulatta - despite her background as a middle-class WASP girl from Montana. With the advent of sound she began to get better, more suitable roles as witty, modern urban 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 stardom as the debonair sleuth Philo Vance in a series of pictures at Warner Brothers. But their chemistry together as Nick and Nora and their easy handling of both the mystery and comedy elements of Hammett's story brought them both to a new level and established a 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 them together, directed them in six films, including I Love You Again.
When this picture was made, Powell was just bouncing back after a rough patch in his 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 recovery and the emotional stress he suffered kept him off the screen for a year (which was unusual 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 amnesia theme.
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 marriage to producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr., which was beginning to show signs of the discord that would lead to a 1942 divorce). She returned from her trip expecting to begin work on Joseph Mankiewicz's film adaptation of Robert Sherwood's hit play The Road to Rome. Clark Gable (another popular and frequent Loy co-star) was to have played Hannibal, and Loy was looking forward to the role of the Roman senator's wife who beguiles him. But the play's anti-war message was considered a losing proposition for a world plunged into conflict and a country on the verge of joining it, so the project was scrapped. Instead, Loy found herself in this comedy, with the great compensation of working with Powell again. "I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell," she later said. "He was a brilliant actor, 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 surprise her for her birthday. Powell conspired with the director and crew to run the camera with no film while he inexplicably began blowing his lines. Pretending to be rattled and 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 it was falling towards them just as the lights suddenly went out. The terrified Loy screamed in the blackness, but nothing happened. And when the lights came back on she 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 capitalize on 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), Frank McHugh (Doc Ryan), Edmund Lowe (Duke Sheldon), Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (Leonard Larkspur, Jr.).
BW-100m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon