Thursday, July 3, 2008

MR. & MRS. SMITH (RKO 1941) Warner Home Video

Alfred Hitchcock once said that if he had decided to make Cinderella his audience would be looking for a body in the coach. Point well taken. Not everything that Hitchcock made was gold, and the few times he attempted to veer away from his tried and true 'wrong man' formula proved infrequent box office disappointments on an otherwise sterling film career.

The demand for Alfred Hitchcock’s services following the back to back smash hits of Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent was overwhelming. While producer David O. Selznick toyed with the idea of developing future in-house projects for his star director, he was also not above loaning Hitchcock out like a prize cow to RKO; in this case for an unlikely dabbling in screwball comedy; Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941).

Scripted by Norman Krasna, the film tells the rather conventional tale of married couple Ann (Carole Lombard) and David (Robert Montgomery) who are struggling to find reasons to stay married. The problem it seems stems from the couple’s ‘one question a month’ rule.

Ann asks David if given the opportunity to go back in time and, knowing then what he knows now, would he still have married her. In a moment of honesty, David confesses that although he loves his wife he also misses his bachelor's freedom, leading Ann to erroneously deduce that he no longer loves her.

David’s response is made even more problematic when the couple learns that their marriage is not legal because of a state boundary dispute. Recognizing that he has been free all along and assuming the question is therefore moot, David decides to propose marriage to his wife again. Only, now Ann contemplates the practicality of spending the rest of her life with David.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is admirably nutty – masterfully pulled off by Lombard's penchant for playing the frazzled madcap to perfection and by Montgomery's willingness to play Bud Abbott to her Lou Costello. But given Alfred Hitchcock’s proven prowess in the field of suspense one wonders what could have possibly been going through the executive mindset at RKO to hire him for a romantic comedy.

Hitchcock shoots his film with an uncharacteristically non-Hitchcockian flair. His direction is solid and more than salvageable, if not on par with the innate mastery for the genre that directors like Leo McCarey and Preston Sturges both share. In this respect, Mr. and Mrs. Smith founders - badly on occasion - from a complete lack of comedic subterfuge. It's an equitable comedy, but not an outrageously ingenious one.

Warner Home Video’s DVD delivers a below par picture quality. The B&W image is grainy, poorly contrasted and contains a litany of age related artifacts. Contrast levels are weak at best. Blacks are a deep gray; whites, a pale gray. Fine details tend to get lost under the patina of film grain. The audio is mono as originally recorded and adequately represented. Extras include a very brief featurette on the film and its theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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