The Awful Truth
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A splendid example of the spontaneous, effervescent film genre known as screwball comedy, Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth (1937) concerns a sophisticated New York couple who've grown more than a little distrustful of each other over the years, each suspecting the other of infidelity.
Lucy (Irene Dunne) and Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) decide to divorce, but their split will not be effective for 90 days. In the meantime, Lucy makes time with a rich-but-blundering Oklahoma oil tycoon and mama's boy, Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy) and Jerry with a highly-string, snobbish socialite Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont). But circumstances keep bringing Jerry and Lucy back together as the calendar pages to their divorce flip by.
Originally a 1922 stage hit penned by Arthur Richman, The Awful Truth was adapted twice to film in 1925 and 1929 and re-made in 1953 as Let's Do It Again. But it was director McCarey who made the definitive adaptation of Richman's story, winning a Best Director Academy Award¨ for his version which also received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Dunne), Best Supporting Actor (Bellamy), Best Screenplay and Best Editing.
Known for its giddy brand of comedy and zany pacing, The Awful Truth includes priceless vignettes like a divorce court scene where Lucy and Jerry vie for custody of their beloved wirehaired fox terrier Mr. Smith (Asta from The Thin Man series).
McCarey's slapstick training was well-honed by the time he made The Awful Truth, perfected in his work with the Marx Brothers and in directing "Our Gang" comedy shorts and Laurel and Hardy films, as he rose from a gagman to vice-president at Hal Roach studios. Greatly influenced by his years at Roach Studios, McCarey encouraged a party-like atmosphere during his later filmmaking endeavors. In The Awful Truth McCarey adapted his comic training to the bedrooms and living rooms of Manhattan's sophisticated upper- crust with wildly successful results, allowing Grant and Dunne to improvise their dialogue in several scenes. McCarey's great belief in improvisation led some to claim that he made up 75% of each day's material on the set, as in a hilarious, supposedly unscripted duet where the tin-eared Belamy performs "Home on the Range" to Dunne's piano accompaniment. The Awful Truth was testament to McCarey's talents as a visual director, or as The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther noted, "Its comedy is almost purely physical...with only here and there a lone gag to interrupt the pure poetry of motion."
Not everyone was reassured by McCarey's working method, like Grant, who McCarey dubbed "the Happy Worrier." The actor was said to be so unsure about the success of The Awful Truth, that during filming he even offered to buy his way out of the production for $5,000. In an ironic twist, The Awful Truth turned out to be not only a Hollywood classic, but at its time a box office success that caused Grant's fan mail to jump from 200 to 1400 fan letters a week.
The Awful Truth remains one of the most significant comedies of the 1930s, one dealing with the at-the-time unusual subject of divorce in a clever, urbane manner, while still reaffirming the importance of Lucy and Jerry's marriage. The chemistry between Grant and Dunne was so good that McCarey reunited the pair for the 1940 comedy My Favorite Wife though McCarey was eventually replaced by Garson Kanin after being badly hurt in a car accident.
Producer/Director: Leo McCarey
Screenplay: Vina Delmar
Cinematography: Josph Walker
Costume Design: Robert Kalloch
Film Editing: Al Clark
Original Music: Morris W. Stoloff
Principal Cast: Irene Dunne (Lucy Warriner), Cary Grant (Jerry Warriner), Ralph Bellamy (Daniel Leeson), Robert (Tex) Allen (Frank Randell), Cecil Cunningham (Aunt Patsy), Mary Forbes (Mrs. Vance).
by Felicia Feaster