Moviegoers often praise a fine drama, but it would require greater effort to produce a good comedy. "The Awful Truth," which was released on October 21, 1937, was a carefree motion picture. Leo McCarey relied on improvisation while Carey Grant didn't like his part. The production didn't turn out to be good for both of them, and there was hard feeling between the two. But it would end up as the definitive screwball comedy.
The plot was rather simple. Husband lost his feelings for the wife, and she felt the same (to him). They planned a divorce until they realized that they were meant for each other. And it happened in the last minute. If it would seem familiar, then you knew your Shakespeare well enough. This was the premise of "Much Ado About Nothing," a template that would be used for successive screwball comedies. A closer look would make us appreciate this movie even more. If you haven't seen this black-and-white picture, then it would be high time to look for a video copy. Here are five reasons:
Cary Grant was a great comedian. He could be seen in the company of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the Marx Brothers, a dapper gentlemen who would be renowned in the light comedy genre. It would be interesting to note that the British actor was nominated for an Academy Award on two occasions, and both films were melodramas. This would lead to a never-ending debate, of which genre has more gravity. Drama or comedy? It may not be difficult to make people laugh, but it would take skills and experience to make generations of viewers appreciate such humor. Charlie Chaplin's humble background, which was bordering on tragedy, was a fine sample. Grant's wasn't far behind. There was nothing like British humor.
Cary Grant and Irene Dunne were the perfect screen couple. The banter between the two couldn't be more outrageous, and Vina Delmar's screenplay was heaven sent. ("Yes, tell her I'd love to meet her. Tell her to wear boxing gloves.") It would have bombed if the script lacked the zip, and there was hardly any chemistry between the actors. Grant and Dunne were good together, such that they collaborated in "Penny Serenade" four years later. And along came Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. They were too good, such that the rest were the also-ran. Perhaps their off-screen relationship was the reason.
Cary Grant and Leo McCarey were a perfect pair as well. The two worked together in three more films, and fans would remember "An Affair to Remember." This drama didn't suit McCarey, who built a comedy on a string of hit comedies. Grant might not have discovered his funny bone if not for the Californian filmmaker.
Leo McCarey was a comic genius. The Californian was one of those filmmakers who found success in both drama and comedy, but he became renowned with the latter. He knew a great deal about comic timing. He had an eye for a fine script, even if the studio system would be known for keeping a small pool of gifted screenwriters. And he could find humor in socially conscious stories.
Skippy was the other star of this comedy. This wire fox terrier upstaged his two-legged co-stars, and he should have received an honorary Oscar. He would appear in other classic comedies instead.