Delightfully funny, the romantic film My Favorite Wife stars truly great screen legends Cary Grant and Irene Dunne who really powerthis so-so story home. They do it with such charm that it really does makes this film, by virtue of their talents, a classic. It’s fanciful and lighthearted though the plot really does make light of some heavy material involving but not limited to: bigamy, divorce, death of a spouse, marital infidelity and best of all, its tied together in a big Hollywood bow. Now this movie is replete with humor and does offer modern audiences a lot of laughs. It has its weak moments but this is a vehicle where Grant and Dunne simply shine in a roles making their mark in film history and offer some of the best work that RKO had to offer in the 40’s.
The film begins with Cary Grant’s having to prove his wife (after 7 years) is legally dead so he can now marry his fiancé. It seems a little strange, yet as the events unfold that issue is really the least of the emotional strain set to befall him. In a series of truly unexpected events, Nick Arden (Grant) has his world turned upside down when his wife turns up after that long absence. Now the predicaments start; stay with your new wife or go back to your old? Explain the reappearance of his wife to the children or keep it from them? Add to that the firm societal taboo (illegality really) on bigamy which was a pretty harsh offense at the time. Some if the story is cheesy and pretty flimsy, but this is a cute little comedy after all, so not deep thought or pondering needed here. However some of the writing is pretty clever even if a handful of jokes don’t appeal to a modern audience these days.
What can you say except the very best things about Cary Grant? Really he could sit on a rocking chair for 90+ minutes and I would watch it intensely. His allure is undeniable as is his charm…aside from Cary Grant there are few actors as classy as him. Taking a less dashing role here, he combines a sort of uncertain reserve with some trademark bravado and poof – enter confused husband Nick Arden. He does it so well that in a way his mannerisms are pretty much how anyone would act in those same situations. Going further so not to hurt any one’s feelings is both cute and admirable and watching him tip toe around the inevitable. It’s not only awkwardly funny but heartwarming. Irene Dunne, an actress I don’t know much about, has some great chemistry with Grant and you could feel that they were almost living this whole story rather than just acting.
I have to say that with Grant in the lead, all other elements fall by the wayside. It’s tough to say thing meld well when you have such a super star soaking up that Golden Ear celluloid. However, something I truly enjoy is the music of the films from the 40’s and 50’s. They just have a certain sense of romance that isn’t found much these days. Back then it genuine or abundant and I sure wish I had grown up in that time more than any other in history. The acting of Grant and Dunn make up for all shortcomings of the supporting (more like background) cast actors and again I have to say the plot felt pretty flimsy. The only problem is that with an 88 minute running time, it feels a bit longer and even so, seems like they were stretching for material.
Mostly shot on sets and looked as such, I felt at many times that this could easily have been a Broadway play. My Favorite Wife is looks like what you would expect from films of that period and really is no different from an episode of I Love Lucy. That it is nearly everything was built on the famous Hollywood sets and back lots. Whether you agree or not, these fabricated sets, to me anyway, actually do a decent job of helping transport you into the film and I can only imagine what it was to this and other golden era films for the first time. Being as this is a love story, again, mostly shot on sets, there’s a little less to marvel at but in some rare scenes where Grant embraces Dunne it’s almost as grand as that of Gable/Leigh. That should make any film fan, nostalgic or not just respect, marvel and recall the dream that was the golden age of cinema.
I supremely enjoy the film and it’s one of the very best roles Cary Grant has in his impressive repertoire. A cutesy story about lost love and enduring devotion. It shows how lover weathers any long absence and any number of contrived and zany plot twists thrown at the characters. However that still says nothing of how quickly the relationship replacements (Randolph Scott and Gail Patrick) are cast aside in light of the 7 year absence. It’s not that I find anything wrong with the movie (it is a light hearted comedy about true love after all) but a film like this almost lays the framework for all films to come with its typical romantic formula: Focus on the main characters, ignore everyone else. Still, you just have to take it for what it is; a giddy screwball comedy that all in all its enjoyable though highly unrealistic. But then again what rom-coms aren’t?