Irene Dunne and Cary Grant star as a couple who file for divorce, then proceed to thwart each other’s attempts to socialize with new partners. Both are too proud to admit they still have feelings for the other until the divorce proceedings have nearly come to a close.
Under the direction of Leo McCarey (Make Way for Tomorrow), Dunne and Grant deliver some of their funniest performances as the overly-suspicious but hopelessly infatuated pair. Grant delights in tipping a band leader to reprise a fast-paced number to keep Dunne, who can’t shake a leg, uncomfortably on her feet with a prospective beau (Ralph Bellamy) who loves to dance. Dunne gets even by crashing Grant’s introduction to a socialite’s family, pretending to be his non-existent, ill-mannered sister. In a lot of screwball comedies, the wackiest antics are reserved for supporting players, but in The Awful Truth, the spotlight is fully on the main stars.
While The Awful Truth may not be as remembered as other screwball classics like the more emotionally grounded It Happened One Night or the more madcap Bringing Up Baby, I think it stands out for bringing all tools from the genre’s arsenal to bear. The screenplay moves like the wind and provides a generous amount of one-liners and throw-aways, pratfalls and physical comedy, and several well-constructed set-pieces. If it has any weakness, it may just be that there is no doubt whatsoever that these two will indeed find their way back to each other. Thankfully, in the hands of this talent, even the predictable is highly entertaining.
Academy Award: Best Director (Leo McCarey)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Actress (Dunne), Supporting Actor (Bellamy), Screenplay, Film Editing