Thursday, March 20, 2008

MY FAVORITE WIFE (RKO 1940) Warner Home Video

Garson Kanin’s My Favorite Wife (1940) is a delightfully obtuse romantic comedy that re-teams costars Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. The two had previously sparkled in Leo McCarey’s screwball classic The Awful Truth 1937. Working from a screenplay by Bella and Sam Spewack and McCarey, My Favorite Wife delves into inspired farce. On this occasion, Grant is cast as Nick Arden – a handsome widower who is preparing to remarry six years after the death of his first wife, Ellen (Dunne). One problem – Ellen isn’t dead. In fact, she is one of two survivors recently rescued from a remote island after the ship she was sailing on six years earlier capsized during a violent storm.

Naturally, this puts a definite crimp in Nick’s plans to remarry. His choice of second mate is the slinky mantrap, Bianca Bates (Gail Patrick). Realizing that he still loves Ellen and therefore cannot commit to his new marriage, Nick is also driven to distraction when he learns that Ellen had been keeping company on the island with a paragon of viral masculinity; Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott).

Stephen makes no bones about his intensions toward Ellen – though the film infers that no such thoughts of hanky-panky even entered Ellen’s mind during their six years of isolation. In fact, Stephen could not be more delighted to find Nick on the verge of remarrying. He pursues Ellen with considerable prowess and dexterity – she occasionally reciprocating his advances, though only to illicit a heightened sense of annoyance from her husband.

Reflecting today on the immediate jealousy that Nick feels toward Stephen, one cannot help but recall the erroneous rumors of a homosexual relationship between Grant and Scott that for some years circulated in the tabloids. In truth, the two actors shared a home (not uncommon in those days) – and apparently a lot of women (also not uncommon) – during their early years in Hollywood; though the rumors over Grant’s sexuality where Scott is concerned appear to have been blown entirely out of proportion. Nevertheless, watching these two he-man battle over the increasingly uncomfortable Ellen lends a curious air of sexual ambivalence.

Daffy and delightful, My Favorite Wife keeps its humor light and airy. The chemistry between Dunne and Grant is both palpable and charming. It’s a pity they didn’t make more movies together. Usually cast as the stalwart cowboy or unscrupulous villain, Scott proves his adeptness at featherweight comedy with an appeal that sadly was never entirely exploited by the studios as a leading man.

In the mid-1960s, 20th Century-Fox purchased the rights for a remake ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ that was to have starred Marilyn Monroe. Monroe’s apparent suicide before completing the film necessitated a revamp of the story recast with Doris Day and released as Move Over Darling (1963).

Warner Home Video’s DVD is fairly clean and consistent. The result of some digital restoration, the B&W image exhibits fairly appealing tonality, though occasionally some scenes appear to have had their contrast levels boosted. Fine details are generally realized. There is a noticeable grain structure and some rather obvious age related artifacts during several transitional fades and dissolves – not uncommon. Blacks can be dark and velvety, but also appear a tad faded at times. The audio is mono as originally recorded and presented at an adequate listening level with reduced hiss and pop. Extras are limited to a short subject and theatrical trailer. Recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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