Other than Film Noir, Screwball Comedy is perhaps the most revered form of film made during Hollywood’s golden era. Director Leo McCarey’s 1937 screwball comedy “The Awful Truth” is one of the high watermarks of the genre. This charming, delightful film stars Cary Grant (swoon), Irene Dunne (swoon) and was a big hit upon its release both critically and commercially. “The Awful Truth” was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one for Best Director—the first of two Best Director Oscars Leo McCarey would win during his career (The second for the 1944 film “Going My Way” with Bing Crosby).
In “The Awful Truth” Grant and Dunne play a young, witty couple Jerry and Lucy Warriner. Grant returns home after two weeks in Florida—only he didn’t go to Florida and is at his club trying to get a quick tan on a sunlamp to cover. After arriving home, Dunne appears too—along with another man dressed the nines in tails. It’s her music teacher, whom she had to stay the evening with since the car broke down “unexpectedly” they claim. Lucy soon learns that Jerry didn’t actually spend two weeks in Florida—and the two begin to grow suspicious of one another and split up.
Jerry and Lucy divorce—with a 60 day wait time for the full terms to take effect. Lucy moves into her aunt’s apartment, where she meets one of the neighbors, a wealthy Oklahoma businessman played by Ralph Bellamy. Jerry gets mixed up at first with a nightclub performer, then with a wealthy socialite. Lucy and Jerry both keep running into each other out and about, and start to engage in little fun exercise to upturn the other’s romance, all the while perhaps realizing that maybe they filed for divorce just a bit too hastily.
It had been a few years since I had seen “The Awful Truth” which comes out on blu-ray this week for the first time in a wonderful new edition from The Criterion Collection. Last time I saw the film was during my Nashville days when I caught a 35mm print of it playing in town at a Cary Grant festival. In the course of Grant’s career “The Awful Truth” was a very important film for the iconic actor. Grant had been working his way through his film career trying to find out exactly who he was. Less we forget that “Cary Grant” was an invention of the British born Archie Leach (Grant’s real name).
McCarey was a masterful director of slapstick and liked to improvise on set—early in his career he worked on silent comedies and with Laurel and Hardy. Grant was hesitant of working with McCarey on the film and tried desperately to back out of it—that open, improvisation style seemed daunting. But McCarey insisted Grant stay in the film and worked with him. Grant had been an acrobat in his younger life, and together the two helped to solidify that light comedy profile that we all know and love today as “Cary Grant.” The confidence, the physically, the facial gestures, the ease with words. It all came together during “The Awful Truth” and the world would be ever grateful for it.
As I said it had been a few years since I last saw “The Awful Truth” and the awful truth of that is that I had forgotten just how funny this film is. Irene Dunne and Cary Grant make for a dream team, and both of them are such a delight together on screen that it makes this movie a pure pleasure from start to finish. With McCarey’s able direction and a terrific supporting cast, this film is such a gem.
The Criterion Collection’s blu-ray of “The Awful Truth” is simply marvelous. There’s a new 4K restoration of the film made from surviving 35mm elements—the film’s original negative no longer exists, and as such grain may be just a tiny touch on the high side, but it’s not distracting or a negative. The film looks sparkling, and that beautiful, silvery nitrate black and white look of films from this era really shines in HD.
Special Features for this blu-ray include an interview with film critic Gary Giddins about McCarey, a video essay from critic David Cairns on Grant’s performance and his transformation into “Cary Grant.” There’s also an illustration audio interview with Irene Dunne from 1978, and a Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the film from 1949 that stars Grant and Claudette Colbert. A booklet rounds out the features with an essay by film critic Molly Haskell.
Criterion has put together another wonderful edition of a film from Hollywood’s golden age. “The Awful Truth” is still as fresh and as funny as it was in 1937, and this new blu-ray gives audiences a chance to see it looking the best it has in years. Highly recommended by yours truly. See you next week.