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The Awful Truth

If one ever doubted Cary Grant's ability to transcend his matinee-idol good looks and charm to become one of Hollywood's most gifted comic actors, The Awful Truth settled the matter for good. Leo McCarey's relentlessly funny comedy about a squabbling pair of divorcés consistently ranks as one of the great screwballs of the era, and decades later it still holds up — in fact, you'll have a hard time finding a more giggle-inducing movie this year at your local cineplex. Grant stars as Jerry Warriner, a husband who can be a bit of a cad — after all, he's not above telling his wife he's traveling to Florida for two weeks, only to knock about with his friends and then lie under a heat-lamp for a few hours before returning home. But a man that scurrilous can't trust his wife much either, and Jerry thinks Lucy (Irene Dunne) is having an affair with her European singing coach (Alexander D'Arcy), prompting Lucy to sue for divorce. The papers are filed, but it will take 90 days for the nuptials to be officially broken — which turns out to be a generous three months wherein Jerry and Lucy can undermine each other's newfound romances. In Lucy's case, she's set on marrying Oklahoma oilman Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy), a wealthy rube who's visiting New York, and the fellow gets on Jerry's nerves. Soon after, Jerry falls for playgirl heiress Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont), which causes Lucy to run interference on the happy couple by posing as Jerry's ditzy sister. Director Leo McCarey was a veteran of the studio system by 1937, having produced numerous shorts for Hal Roach; he also teamed up Laurel & Hardy and directed the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup. In The Awful Truth, his finely tuned comic timing — and ability to work with actors who had a knack for improvisation — earned him an Academy Award for Best Director, and that for a film that's basically a broad series of setups and payoffs. The plot may seem a bit convoluted if you try to recall it, but one classic moment follows another — Grant playing the piano and singing with the family dog; Dunne and Bellamy's awful dancing; Grant trading ju-jitsu moves with an Asian butler; the soon-to-be divorced couple riding on the handlebars of two police motorcycles; the dog falling off the mirror; the tacky nightclub singer; the purloined hat; Grant wrestling with a table and chair. Special credit must be extended to Ralph Bellamy, who had the nerve to play opposite Cary Grant as the hapless loser not once, but twice. Their sharp interaction in this movie was recaptured in Howard Hawks' 1940 His Girl Friday, and portions of the dialogue were even taken up for that later film (it would seem audiences couldn't get enough of these two). It's Bellamy who actually gives The Awful Truth its funniest moments with his goofy, off-the-wall earnestness, and it's a shame he's hustled off the screen before the movie's over. As a comedian, Cary Grant always loved a sparring partner, and Bellamy was one of the best around. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of The Awful Truth is a welcome arrival, replacing substandard VHS editions. This is not a restored picture, so the source material has some collateral wear and noticeable film grain, but it's a pleasant black-and-white movie with good low-contrast details in a solid 1.33:1 transfer. The monaural audio (DD 2.0) is even better, with clear tones and barely a hint of ambient noise. Trailer gallery, keep-case.
—Robert Wederquist

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