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Friday Night Spotlight - Screwball Comedies
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My Favorite Wife

Monday December, 22 2014 at 11:30 PM

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Based on Lord Tennyson's poem, "Enoch Arden," My Favorite Wife (1940) once again pairs Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in a romantic farce. The two first appeared together in The Awful Truth (1937), a classic screwball comedy directed by Leo McCarey. Working with Sam and Bella Spewack on the original story, McCarey intended to direct My Favorite Wife, but prior to filming he was involved in a very serious car accident, forcing him to relinquish his directorial responsibilities. Instead, McCarey tapped screenwriter Garson Kanin to direct and the prominent scenarist rose to the occasion quite successfully. McCarey was able to produce the movie, enjoying continued involvement in his pet project, and along with the Spewacks, received Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay for their work. My Favorite Wife also received Oscar nominations for Best Score (Roy Webb) and Best Art Direction (Van Nest Polglase and Mark-Lee Kirk).

The movie was one of six films based on Tennyson's poem. McCarey originally planned the film for Jean Arthur under the working title, Woman Overboard, but she was committed to other projects (she eventually made a film - Too Many Husbands (1940) - which had a similar plot). Other versions of "Enoch Arden" include D.W. Griffith's film of the same name, which premiered in 1911. Another version, Something's Got to Give, went into production in 1962 with Marilyn Monroe but was never completed since the actress dropped out during filming (it was her final film project). Shortly afterward, Doris Day and James Garner were cast in a remake entitled Move Over, Darling (1963).

The original premise of "Enoch Arden" concerns a married man who is shipwrecked on a deserted island. Over the passage of time, his wife, presuming he is dead, decides to move on with her life and takes another lover. Eventually, her missing spouse is rescued and makes his way home only to discover that his wife has remarried.

In My Favorite Wife, the roles are reversed and it is Ellen Arden (Dunne), who has been lost at sea. After seven years, Nick (Grant) has become romantically involved with Bianca (Gail Patrick) and made her his wife. It is on the couple's honeymoon that Nick sees his long lost wife for the first time. Frantic and understandably baffled, he shuffles between his two spouses in a futile effort to prevent wife number two from meeting wife number one. As if the situation isn't confounding enough, Nick soon learns that his wife was not marooned on the island alone. There was one other survivor, a handsome bachelor named Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott), who is actively courting Ellen.

The pairing of Grant and Dunne as the conflicted couple is particularly inspired in this version of the story. The duo worked on only three films together, but developed a friendship that endured for decades. Of her onscreen partner, Dunne wrote, "I appeared with many leading men. But working with Cary Grant was different from working with other actors - he was much more fun! I think we were a successful team because we enjoyed working together tremendously, and that pleasure must have shown through onto the screen."

Director: Garson Kanin
Producer: Leo McCarey
Screenplay: Sam Spewack, Bella Spewack (based on a story by Leo McCarey, Sam Spewack and Bella Spewack and a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson).
Cinematography: Rudolph Mate
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase, Mark-Lee Kirk
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Irene Dunne (Ellen Arden), Cary Grant (Nick Arden), Randolph Scott (Stephen Burkett), Gail Patrick (Bianca), Ann Shoemaker (Ma Arden), Scotty Beckett (Tim Arden), Mary Lou Harrington (Chinch Arden).
BW-89m. Closed captioning.

by Mary Anne Melear

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