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My Favorite Wife (1940)

Starting over after the loss of a spouse can be hard enough for anyone — but finding yourself accidentally married to two women is far worse. For Nick Arden (Cary Grant), his photographer wife Ellen (Irene Dunne) was shipwrecked off the coast of southeast Asia during an anthropological expedition. She was last seen entering one of the lifeboats, and not a thing more was known. Seven years later, attorney Nick files in court to have Ellen declared legally dead, and then immediately marries his fiancée Bianca (Gail Patrick). But as luck would have it, Ellen turns up at the Arden home on the same day, dressed in the clothes of a sea tramp. It turns out that she'd been stranded on an isolated island since the day her ship went down, but her happy reunion with her two children is soon disrupted — Nick's mother (Ann Shoemaker) explains that her son is off on his honeymoon. Ellen soon tracks Nick and Bianca down at a Yosemite hotel, taking a nearby room. Nick is surprised to see her (to say the least), but both are unsure how to resolve the case of unintentional bigamy. Nick, for one, would like to crawl into the nearest hole and stay there. But Ellen works her way back into the Arden home, posing as an old family friend, and soon becoming a sharp-tongued nemesis to the frosty Bianca.

Arriving in 1940, My Favorite Wife marked one of Cary Grant's early forays into film comedy after spending years as a good-looking, somewhat bland studio player. Here, he's re-teamed with leading lady Irene Dunne, who positively sparkled opposite Grant in Leo McCarey's screwball classic The Awful Truth (1937). And it isn't only the stars who return — much of that script's comic elements are reprised here (both written by McCarey), with the separated couple who each take up with another lover while trying to resolve the crisis in their own relationship (it turns out that Ellen was on that island for seven years with the hunky Stephen Burkett, played by a very funny Randolph Scott). The broad premise allows the actors plenty of range to improvise gags — it may lack the ferocious slapstick of The Awful Truth or rapid-fire verbal combat of His Girl Friday (1940), but fans will enjoy Grant's well-known gift for jealous exasperation, as well as Dunne's ditzy demeanor that belies her caustic wit. Trivia buffs will note that My Favorite Wife was to be remade in 1962 as Something's Got to Give starring Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, and Cyd Charisse — the unfinished film (Monroe's last) was partially reconstructed by Fox and can be seen on Marilyn Monroe: The Final Years. Warner's DVD release of My Favorite Wife features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) with DD 1.0 audio — the print contains noticable collateral wear typical for a film of its vintage, but both the audio and video are pleasant with clear detail. Supplements include a 1950 Screen Director's Playhouse radio production of My Favorite Wife with Grant and Dunne, performed before a live audience (60 min.), the MGM short "Home Movies" with Robert Benchley (7 min.), and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Robert Wederquist

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