Celebrating my birthday this week there was just one man I wanted to spend it with, well, until my boyfriend returned home from work: the wonderful, charming Cary Grant.
Over the last few months I’ve been working my way through Grant’s filmography. I decided to watch My Favourite Wife, released in 1940 and directed by Garson Kanin, on my birthday as being a screwball comedy I hoped that it would be light and fun to watch.
The film opens with Grant’s Nick Arden asking a judge to declare his wife, Ellen (Irene Dunne), legally dead, as she has been missing for seven years since her ship was lost at sea and he now wants to marry again. The judge, expertly performed by Granville Bates, is unintentionally very funny, which is where the humour starts.
As the film gets going – it’s short, at only 84 minutes – the laughs keep coming. Grant’s easy, natural charm is on full display, as Nick comes to terms with the unexpected return of his shipwrecked wife and having to break the news to his new wife, Bianca (Gail Patrick).
There’s a fantastic, hilarious scene when Nick decides to take a more cowardly approach. After Ellen arrives at the hotel where Nick and Bianca are honeymooning, Nick – after being accused of lowering the hotel’s respectability by renting rooms for both wives – decides that he must break things off with Bianca.
He decides to call her, and unbeknownst to both of them they are just one phone booth away from each other. As Nick lies about where he is and feigns the sound of an aircraft propeller, we are given a masterclass in the famous Grant wit and timing.
As the action moves from the hotel to Nick’s house it is Dunne who then impresses with her comedic skills, especially when pretending to be an old friend of Nick’s when Nick and Bianca return home. Dunne is luminescent on screen, and I really enjoyed watching her in My Favourite Wife, the first film I had watched starring her.
Further hilarity ensues when it’s revealed that Ellen hasn’t spent the last seven years alone. Enter Randolph Scott’s statuesque and likeable Stephen Burkett. As Nick’s jealous streak emerges, Bianca almost disappears from the screen entirely until she consults a doctor, concerned at her new husband’s behaviour.
By the time the screwball comedy reaches its happy conclusion, My Favourite Wife shows Grant at his light-hearted finest. There’s witty dialogue, moments of pure joy and the unexpected delight of seeing Grant don a Father Christmas outfit.
It’s a very enjoyable way to spend 84 minutes and a film that I will certainly watch again.
My Favourite Wife (1940)
Director: Garson Kanin
Starring: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant
“Missing for seven years and presumed dead, a woman returns home on the day of her husband’s second marriage.” – IMDb
- Nominated for three Academy Awards at the 1941 ceremony: Best Writing – Original Story, Best Art Direction – Black-and-White and Best Music, Original Score
- An adaptation of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1864 poem, ‘Enoch Arden’