The Awful Truth (1937)

It's somewhat odd to watch "The Awful Truth" thinking that it was made well before the 40s had even rolled around. This was in the era of film—two years later, in 1939—that the producers had to get special permission for Clark Gable to say the word "damn" in "Gone with the Wind". There's no denying that the special permission paid off because the line is the most famous line from any film ever made...success.
In an era run by censors and regulations—our minds recall what happened to "Bringing up Baby"—it's so very, very odd that "The Awful Truth" managed to sneak in. The film, which won Best Director at the Academy Awards, is one-part farce and two-parts romance. It's a wonderful translation from stage to film and it leaves non of the tell-tale signs of the transfer.
Leo McCarey, the director, has Cary Grant paired against Irene Dunne who outshines him in every scene she's in. From the slapstick nature of the film to the tender love that sneaks up to the obvious sexual references that close out the movie, "The Awful Truth" is entertaining throughout.
The Warriners have a terrible relationship—one based on mistrust. If there was a person to blame, it would most assuredly be Jerry (Grant). He's told his wife Lucy (Dunne) that he's taking a vacation to Florida, but he lies. We don't really know where he spends the time while away on vacation, but we do know that the first scene of the movie has him trying to paste on a fake tan as quickly as order to convince the suspicious little wife.
Inviting his friends over to his house, he arrives to find that his little wife is not at home. Immediately filled with suspicion and jealousy, he laughs the matter off for the sake of saving face in front of company. Lucy arrives when all the members have gathered with her voice coach, announcing that the two got marooned on the trip back from the cottage that Lucy's aunt owns thanks to car trouble. They had to spend one night alone together.
Jerry is furious, but he hides it as well as he can, which is not very well. Soon, everyone empties out of the house and the fighting begins...fighting played out for laughs with verbal barbs and quick writing—it's not that uncomfortable to watch.
The couple quickly decide that they need to get a divorce, and that they do. "The Awful Truth" is also shocking because it is, in essence, a mockery of the institution of marriage and quite a perceptive one at that.
The only problem the two have in court is which one of them will get custody of Mr. Smith, their dog. Lucy bribes the terrier into staying with her (yes, it does make sense if you see the movie) and Jerry is left out in the cold...but not for long.
The biggest joy of "The Awful Truth" is Cecil Cunningham as Aunt Patsy, a woman with as many sayings as she has years as a single woman. Aunt Patsy is one of few female characters from this decade of film that doesn't serve as a warning against not marrying—if you don't marry, you'll turn into an unhappy old spinster like me etc. She's charming, funny, and wickedly clever.
Patsy spies an eligible young man from Oklahoma and introduces him to her niece. Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy) is not exactly the brightest bulb in the drawer and reminds us of Rock Hudson from "Giant".
As Jerry and Lucy move on from their marriage they may realize that they were the best people for each other—even if that means the fighting is intense...or they may not.
"The Awful Truth" treats divorce so laissez faire and marriage so disdainfully that it's actually quite a lot of fun to watch.
A mockery, a comedy, a romance.

Score: ★★★½

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