Now, this is how it’s done. The reason I love romantic comedies so much is due to a film like The Awful Truth. Unfortunately, the majority of them today are not so great but in the 1930s? This was the golden age for my absolute favorite kind of romantic comedy—the screwball.
The Awful Truth combines the screwball elements in such wonderful ways that it reaches near the top of the genre. Why is it so good? It’s got two terrific leads—Irene Dunne and Cary Grant—who have perfect comic timing AND real onscreen chemistry that can not be faked. The Awful Truth has lots of smart dialogue spoken quickly between Dunne/Grant with the rest of the cast just a beat slower in tempo—a common screwball tactic. Toss in some great bits of business (aka physical comedy) and I’m happy.. Combine all those things and you get a classic Hollywood romantic comedy.
Dunne plays Lucy, married to Grant’s character of Jerry. After he gets home from a trip he believes his wife has betrayed him with another man. Divorce proceedings start. The couple has to wait 90 days for the divorce to be final—just enough time to get up to all kinds of shenanigans.
Lucy begins to date a slow talking oaf from Oklahoma City (a few subtle digs toward Oklahoma that had me chuckling); Jerry starts to date a stuffy Wasp—both Lucy and Jerry relish their various antics to cause turmoil in those new relationships. There’s one hilarious scene (of many) with Lucy (faking a drunk) pretending to be Jerry’s sister at his new girlfriend’s house that is the pinnacle of what a screwball scene can be (see the 6 minute scene below).
To say that Grant is terrific is a no-brainer—it’s Cary Grant! The real revelation is Irene Dunne. While Dunne was a star in 1937 and into the 1940s, she doesn’t have the timeless legacy her male co-star has because his career lasted so long and he was in so many great films. Lucy, thanks to Dunne’s performance, is a smart, independent and sexy woman who takes no guff from anyone. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise as the women in ‘30s Hollywood films were full of feistiness that the same qualities are lacking in movies now. Dunne exemplifies how much I love the glamour and the sass of actresses from this era. I just added a bunch of Dunne films in my Netflix queue that I’m eager to see.
The Awful Truth is as good as it can possibly get. It has movie stars at their best, it’s romantic, it’s intelligent and it’s as funny as all get out. This is the third time I’ve watched The Awful Truth and like movies this good—it gets better each time I see it. I’m not sure I like it as much as two of my favorite films (which are also screwball pictures) The Lady Eve or It Happened One Night but it’s a nearly flawless movie and I can hardly wait to watch it again in a few years.