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I Was a Male War Bride

Ever notice how nobody ever brings up Cary Grant's nationality in any of his movies? The Bristol-born Englishman and former circus acrobat found his way to the United States when he was barely out of his teens. Once he made his way to Hollywood, his breathtaking good looks meant no lack of work for him in the nascent film industry, and nobody really cared what he sounded like anyway ("If he can talk, hire him," Mae West said upon first spotting him on a soundstage, right before giving the former Archie Leach his big movie break in 1933's She Done Him Wrong.) It really didn't matter if he was supposed to be a sophisticated English gentleman, as in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941), a left-leaning labor organizer in George Stevens' Talk of the Town (1942), or even the commander of a U.S. Navy sub in Blake Edwards' Operation Petticoat (1959) — Grant always sounded exactly like Cary Grant… which is to say he sounded just like Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot ("Excuse me miss, you're blocking my view.") The mere proof that Grant transcended the A-list into his own realm of movie star is in Howard Hawks' 1949 I Was a Male War Bride, in which he plays French Army Capt. Henri Rochard and never even tries to sound the least bit French. The threadbare comedy concerns Rochard, who's been tasked to root out a black-market manufacturer in postwar Germany. Assigned as his escort on his mission is U.S. Army Lt. Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan) — the pair have been in their share of scrapes before and never seen eye to eye, and Rochard for one insists he's happy that he's about to rejoin civilian life. But after an eventful visit to a German village, the two find that they've fallen for each other and determine to marry. The only problem is that foreign spouses of American military personnel are required to undergo a great deal of paperwork, and the bureaucracy is geared solely towards war-brides, since war-husbands are an unheard-of commodity, leading to a series of misadventures and mishaps before Rochard finally is forced to dress in drag in the hopes of breaking through the American red tape. Howard Hawks' is no stranger to comedy — despite his reputation for westerns and action pictures, his gift for the screwball was formidable, and he directed Cary Grant in two bona fide classics, His Girl Friday (1940) and Monkey Business (1952). Compared to those entries, I Was a Male War Bride is much lighter on laughs and sexual tension. In part, it's due to Ann Sheridan, who is a likable presence but doesn't hit Grant with the same spark of a Rosalind Russell, Irene Dunne, or Marilyn Monroe. Then again, it must also be admitted that the script itself is substandard, with apparently "zany" and "madcap" moments that do little more than encourage a smile rather than voluminous laughter. But it's still a pleasant spin for Grant's fans, particularly when he finds himself unable to find a place to sleep on the Army base and is repeatedly told by everyone he meets "You can't sleep here." Cary's always worth watching — just remember, in this film he's supposed to be French. Fox's DVD release of I Was a Male War Bride features a good full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a very good black-and-white source-print with little hint of wear. Supplements include a vintage newsreel, a stills gallery, the theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Cary Grant movies. Keep-case.
—JJB



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