The Awful Truth
The Awful Truth has dialogue that can only be described as sparkling (dialogue I wish I could write) and situations that are awkward and embarrassing for the characters, but very funny for the rest of us.
The truth of the title is the movie’s central concern, and is contrasted again and again by the falsity which with the two main characters, a couple on the brink of divorce, are attempting to live their lives. Awful it is, because the truth hits them at every turn no matter how hard they try to avoid it. We and the characters may not see it right off, if at all, but clearly the director Leo McCarey has the more profound meaning of awful, i.e. “inspiring awe,” in mind as well.
I know I’m making it sound dreadful, like an Ida Lupino or Joan Crawford tearjerker, and nothing could be further from the truth, that word again. No, this is the quintessential screwball comedy with every scene evoking laughter, and both of the main actors, Irene Dunn and Cary Grant, at the top of their comedic form.
We open with Cary Grant at his health club concocting a lie to explain an absence of two weeks from his wife. He will tell her he has been in Florida and a heat lamp will give him the tan to prove it. He’ll even bring her a big basket of Florida oranges as a gift. He walks in on her and a skeptical crowd of her friends, sure of his cleverness all the way to the point where she takes one of the oranges and sees, “Product of California,” proudly printed on it.
They end up in divorce court arguing over the dog which serves for the husband as a way of staying in his wife’s life. She finds her own extramarital affections with a vocal coach and an Oklahoma rancher, but we can clearly see that they are poor substitutes for her husband, who is clearly made for her.
The rest of the characters, other than the wife’s aunt, who fulfills more of a Greek chorus role, seem, I imagine for both us and the couple themselves, like props. The central conflict is between the spouses and the central focus is each other. Both the husband and wife are deceptive, clever, funny to the point of silliness sometimes, and very much alive. The only person you could imagine for them would be each other.
The husband finds himself involved briefly with a rather tawdry night club singer, who, the husband points out, speaks with a phony “Amos and Andy” accent. She answers that being from the South is useful for her career. She does a nightclub act that proves highly embarrassing to the husband where her dress blows up around her a la Marilyn Monroe. The wife makes clever use of this later when she poses as the husband’s sister.
Before the movie is done, both husband and wife need to be extracted, by each other, from disastrous second marriages to other people. The movie then ends with joyful, surrealistic chaos. Definitely get the disc and see this one.