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Mr. and Mrs. Smith

It isn't easy to decide which of Alfred Hitchcock's films is the most "Hitchcockian," but of the director's American productions, it's easy to see which bears the faintest marks of The Master. For starters, there are no sinister murders in Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941). There isn't even a hint of criminal activity. Instead, the romantic comedy concerns David and Ann Smith (Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard), a happily married Manhattan couple. Well, almost happily married. They aren't always happy, particularly when their marathon quarreling keeps David away from his law office for days on end. And they aren't married either, it turns out, when it's pointed out to them by a visiting government official that their Idaho marriage license is invalid — thanks to some unusual geographic gerrymandering, their ceremony occurred in Nevada. While David had only confessed to Ann that very morning that he wouldn't marry her if he could make the same choice twice, he decides to keep the information to himself for the time being, choosing to take his alleged wife to their honeymoon restaurant, followed by a night of matrimonial amore. But Ann also got the news, and after she realizes David's deception, sparks fly. Before long they've split up, with David living at his club and hob-nobbing with ladies-man Chuck (Jack Carson). Meanwhile, Ann strikes up a not-so-innocent relationship with David's law partner Jeff (Gene Raymond). Mr. and Mrs. Smith was virtually dismissed in later years by Hitchcock, who claimed he only did it as a favor to his good friend Carole Lombard whilst on loan from producer David O. Selznick to RKO. Lombard and her husband Clark Gable had been friends with the Hitchcocks from virtually the day they arrived in America, even allowing the family to rent their Hollywood home. And while Hitchcock was a director of far more renown than wealth in 1941 (his two stars were paid far more than he earned for this movie), Lombard wanted to be in a Hitchcock film, and very badly it seems. To everyone's great sorrow, she would die in a plane crash just two years later, at the young age of 33, and one can only wonder how much the "Queen of Screwball Comedy" might have been transformed into a classically drawn Hitchcock blonde in subsequent years. The history books can only guess at such matters — the sole collaboration between Hitch and Lombard contains the comedienne's trademarks, not her director's, with such gags as being trapped on a carnival ride in a rainstorm, dining in a run-down restaurant, and trying to put her best foot forward while wearing skis, while co-star Montgomery (taking the job after Cary Grant couldn't be secured) earns his own laughs, in particular when he intentionally bloodies his nose in order to escape an excruciating double-date. But were the average film-student shown Mr. and Mrs. Smith, knowing nothing about it, there would be no reason to suspect Alfred Hitchcock was the man behind the lens — Howard Hawks, Leo McCarey, and William Wellman would rank among the usual suspects. And if that makes Hitchcock seem like a merely competent director, it's notable that he could deliver a well-made studio project between the more-memorable Foreign Correspondent and Suspicion. Warner's DVD release features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a source-print that's pleasant and watchable, given the film's age, while the monaural audio is delivered on a Dolby Digital 1.0 track. Supplements include the featurette "Mr. Hitchcock Meets the Smiths" with comments from Peter Bogdanovich and film critic Richard Schickel (16 min.) and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—JJB



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