Back in February I wrote about really enjoying the 1937 screwball comedy The Awful Truth and that film’s star—Irene Dunne. Well, since then I’ve been trying to catch up on my Irene Dunne (yay Netflix queue!) and how I’ve enjoyed discovering Dunne’s many charms with three more films: My Favorite Wife (1940, really great), Love Affair (1939, kind of disappointing) and Roberta (1935, good). While none of those equal the absolute wondrous that is The Awful Truth—Dunne is great in all of them.
What makes Dunne so talented is that she possesses a level of versatility that allows her to do comedy, belt out songs (in both serious and comedic vein), drama and play romantic leads—all while being smart, sympathetic and likeable for the audience. Dunne seems to be good in any genre you put her in but she’s a master in anything with romantic comedy in it. Timing, wit, flair and spunk—Dunne has all those things and the screen radiates with her presence in these black and white films from the past.
I just watched Roberta earlier tonight and Dunne is not the main focus of the film—Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers singing and dancing seems to take up the bulk of the action. While I enjoy watching that legendary tandem do what they do best—I wanted more of Irene Dunne! Her “almost” romance with Randolph Scott’s John Kent is the heart of the picture. I hate to say it but the Astaire/Rogers scenes are just fillers to get to the scenes with Dunne stealing the picture.
Roberta, set in a Parisian fashion house and in a music hall, lets Dunne play to all her strengths—romantic longing, whipping off intelligent barbs and singing until Kent comes to his senses. I’m not sure what takes him so long but you have to be patient in older films—but patience will often reward you with something good and films from the 1930s are especially generous in what they give.
I’m not finished with my “catching up” with Irene Dunne as I’ve got four more of her films waiting in my queue—Life With Father and Penny Serenade among them. Unfortunately, not enough of her films are on DVD—I count about 25 or so I’d love to watch but they don’t seem to be available. If anyone sees Turner Classic running an Irene Dunne marathon—someone out there needs to tell me about it.