Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan tackle American red tape and administrative annoyances in this comedy based on the lived experience of Roger Charlier, a Belgian who married an American nurse and published his story in the Baltimore Sun in 1947, two years prior to the film’s release.
Set post-World War II in Heidelberg, Allied-occupied Germany, Captain Henri Rochard (Grant) of the French Army is paired with American Lieutenant Catherine Gates (Sheridan) to find and recruit a highly skilled lens maker, Schindler.
Based on their previous assignments together, the duo are less than pleased about their joint mission, but sure enough they realise that their constant ribbing of one another are playground tactics and they are actually deeply in love with each other.
I Was a Male War Bride was the penultimate collaboration between Grant and director Howard Hawks – together they made five films – and the Grant charm, comedic timing and wit is in full effect.
Just over five minutes in and we see Rochard trying to decipher the meanings of the various acronyms on the doors of the Army Corps building. When he gets to LADIES he starts saying ‘Labour and Administration Department…’ before, of course, a woman walks out of the female lavatories.
Sheridan is also a delight, and the earlier scenes when they are journeying to find Schindler are very entertaining; Sheridan is more than a match for Grant in the comedy stakes. When Rochard asks Gates what’s wrong with another officer – it’s clear that this other officer has feelings for her – she replies:
“It’s only natural that you wouldn’t understand Henry. You see, you chase after anything in skirts. Anything. They’re all the same to you. But, lots of men can tell them apart. Believe me sometimes they find one they like better than the other. That’s called love. You probably haven’t experienced it but you must have read about it somewhere.”
During the first half of the film the jokes keep on coming, and I agree with other reviewers that have noted that it is more of a low-key screwball comedy. There are several slapstick moments involving wet paint, broken door knobs and mistaken identity, but nothing too outrageous.
Unfortunately, I found the second half of the film – after Rochard and Gates decide to get married – quite dull in comparison to the hilarity and adventures of the first half. There are still funny moments, especially as poor Rochard is bounced around as his situation as a male war bride is quite unique, but with Grant and Sheridan’s screen time together reduced, I found myself missing their playful banter.
Indeed, I found myself growing qutie tired of Grant’s repetitive “I am an alien spouse of female military personnel en-route to the United States under Public Law 271 of the Congress” as Charlier himself must have been when he lived it.
Nonetheless it’s a fun outing, especially considering the time it was made. Released just four years after the end of World War II there would have been thousands of war brides – as well as Charlier, of course – familiar with the documentation and red tape required to marry and travel with their loved ones.
I Was a Male War Bride (1949)
Director: Howard Hawks
Starring: Cary Grant, Ann Sheridan
“After marrying an American lieutenant with whom he was assigned to work in post-war Germany, a French captain attempts to find a way to accompany her back to the States under the terms of the War Bride Act.” – IMDb
- Nominated for Best Written American Comedy at the Writers Guild of America Awards 1950