Thursday, February 3, 2011

#50: The Awful Truth

The Awful Truth released in 1937 had many firsts going for itself. Adapted from a 1925 Arthur Richman play, it was written for the screen by Vina Delmar. The movie served a template of a story- that of a couple on the verge of breakup eventually reconciling their differences-that would later be used repeatedly in many movies. In what should be considered a turning point of Cary Grant's career, it was also his first light comedy- a genre Grant would later become synonymous with over the next 2 decades. And it also won director Leo McCarey- of the Duck Soup fame, his first and only Oscar.

The Awful Truth is a story about a young couple - Jerry (Grant) and Lucy (Irene Dunne)- who are at a stage in their marriage where suspicion about the other's liaisons is transforming into a way of life. The first thing the director lets us know about Jerry is that he's lying to his wife about a vacation he had undertaken. Once he comes back home, Jerry's suspicion about Lucy's whereabouts the previous night snowballs into a fight that ends in the couple mutually consenting for a divorce. The entire showdown appears flimsy as the conflict doesn't really escalate to a level for a viewer to convincingly buy into it. The good thing that happens from here on is that the movie only becomes better. The plot turns effective with the introduction of the character of Ralph Bellamy, who plays Dan Leeson- a neighbor Lucy gets engaged to within months of her impending divorce to Jerry. The character of Alexander D'Arcy who plays Armand - Lucy's handsome music teacher brings another layer of comical confusion that makes The Awful Truth a delight to watch

With the help of a breezy screenplay, Cary Grant completely becomes a show-stealer in every scene that he's in. A couple of funny accidents that he's involved in towards the middle of the movie are laugh-out-loud moments. Cary Grant's ease at pulling off this natural self-deprecating humor would later become his trademark in movies like His Girl Friday, Arsenic and the Old Lace and The Philadelphia Story. In fact His Girl Friday is one of the movies that later heavily borrowed from the template of The Awful Truth that I referred to in the beginning of this review. The similarities are uncanny. Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy, in a manner of speaking, reprise their roles while Irene Dunne is replaced by Rosalind Russell. The Awful Truth however ends like how it begins- weakly. At a party, Lucy upsets Jerry's to-be-bride and his family acting as Jerry's scandalous sister. The situation does turn out to be funny but seems contrived.

As a movie, The Awful Truth hits the right notes and warmly tugs your heart towards an estranged couple. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne blend neatly in their characters and captivate you with their squabbles. Grant's charisma is the perfect complement to the smart and witty character that Dunne portrays. You will probably have seen and liked many more similar movies. But you must spare time for this original- it's worth it and more.

Rating: 7.3/10