My Favorite Wife (1940)

“Make up your mind, old man: you’re not allowed to have two wives, you know!”

Synopsis:
A man (Cary Grant) whose shipwrecked wife (Irene Dunne) is presumed dead finds his second marriage (to Gail Patrick) disrupted by the sudden reappearance of Dunne — and the man (Randolph Scott) she spent the past seven years on a deserted island with.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this romantic repairing of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant — who had starred together with “great success” in Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937), and later reteamed in Penny Serenade (1941) — is a “sprightly but slight marital farce”. While the film “starts out extremely well” (how could it not, based on such a delicious scenario?), it unfortunately “never rises from amusing to hilarious”; instead, the “marital game-playing becomes far-fetched and tedious, and too much of the humor comes at the expense of characters who are being treated rotten”. Indeed, poor “Patrick, in particular, gets unfair treatment”, mostly due to the underdeveloped arc of her character; she’s never really given much of a chance for sympathy, and is dismissed far too easily as merely a nuisance to be gotten rid of.

Making much more of a splash (literally!) is “muscular, virile” Randolph Scott as Dunne’s shipwrecked compatriot, who insists that things remained strictly platonic between them during their entire seven years on an island together. Uh-huh. This is just as quaint as Dunne believing that if she makes it to the hotel before newlyweds Grant and Patrick arrive, she can safely salvage the “situation”. And speaking of “situations”, it is interesting, as Peary notes, that “while Dunne forgives Grant for romancing and marrying Patrick, he has trouble coming to terms with her being stranded for seven years with… Scott”. At any rate, it’s primarily “the charm of the stars” that “carries the picture to its… conclusion” — with the final “bedroom scene” coming across as a weak attempt to replicate the hilarious sexiness of The Awful Truth‘s comparable ending.

Note: Somewhat notoriously, My Favorite Wife was in the process of being remade with Marilyn Monroe as Something’s Got to Give in 1962, but was never completed; instead, it was officially remade with Doris Day and James Garner in 1963 as Move Over, Darling (a title not listed in Peary’s book).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Randolph Scott as Steve
  • Some amusingly handled dialogue:

    Grant (to buff Randolph): “Do you ride in cabs or just trot along beside?”

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth one-time viewing.

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One Response to “My Favorite Wife (1940)”

  1. Not a must.

    In establishing the film’s premise, the first 10 minutes of this somewhat innocuous puffball are fine. Unfortunately, from that point ‘MFW’ nosedives since it doesn’t have much of anywhere satisfying to go. Nobody wants to tell anybody (why?!) that Dunne didn’t die after all…but, of course, if that were known, there would be no movie. Grant’s second marriage with Patrick is beyond understanding (he admits to Dunne that he has never been in love with her, and nobody likes her – with good reason). Dunne and Grant are still in love – supposedly – so, when Scott helps to introduce the jealousy angle, things turn tiresome. (However, ffs accustomed to the stoic Scott of Boetticher westerns, will at least find him delicious in his change-of-pace here.)

    It’s true: the quaint ideas that a) Scott and Dunne lived together without sex for seven years, and b) Dunne has to high-tail it to Grant to prevent sex on his honeymoon (“I hope I’m not too late!”) do stretch credulity.

    It’s also small comfort that the film has been nimbly directed by Garson Kanin. Kanin added quite a few delightful touches, all in an effort to circumvent a forced script.

    Gay ffs in particular will enjoy Grant’s appearance (more or less) in drag when he’s gathering clothes for Dunne – and will no doubt relish the opportunity to speculate further on the deeply protected nature of the real-life ‘friendship’ of Grant and Scott:

    http://blogs.villagevoice.com/dailymusto/2010/09/cary_grant_and.php

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