The Awful Truth
Directed by Leo McCarey
I love old movies. I love Cary Grant. I love light-hearted comedies. Even though The Awful Truth fits all of those criteria, I had never wanted to see it. Why? The cover of the DVD that we have at my local library looks like it’s a musical. I couldn’t fathom Cary Grant in a musical; it made me uncomfortable. If it hadn’t been nominated for best picture, I never would have watched it. I would have missed out on a great movie.
So what’s the story? Married couple Lucy and Jerry Warriner have a silly misunderstanding and decided to get divorced. The divorce is granted, but they must wait three months for the divorce to be final. During these three months, both Lucy and Jerry date new people, but they both do everything they can to disrupt the other’s new relationships.
The Good: ASTA!!!! He may have been a dog, but Asta was a minor Hollywood star in the 1930s and 1940s, appearing with such stars as William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Katharine Hepburn. Not only is he adorable, he’s very well-trained. He’s also charming, which I didn’t realize a dog could be, but Asta is.
Asta’s human costars are wonderful, too, even if they aren’t as cute as he is. Although he plays Jerry Warriner with his characteristic suavity, Cary Grant also imbues his character with an inner delight in life. Irene Dunne’s Lucy is full of (justifiably) wounded pride; Dunne draw on this pride to explain both her rebound “love” and her fiendish delight in ruining Jerry’s new relationship. Of course, it’s expected that Dunne and Grant will be good; they weren’t famous just for their good looks. The totally unexpected performance came from Cecil Cunningham, who plays Lucy’s sardonic aunt, Patsy (or Patty; both were used in the movie). I had never heard of her before, but she is hilarious in this movie. She brings good, solid common sense into a screwball situation, letting both main characters know that they are being completely ridiculous.
The costumes and sets are gorgeous. The dresses are beautiful, and it was impossible for me to not admire the furs, even though I am anti-fur. Combined with the sparkling wit of the screenplay, The Awful Truth makes me wish that I were a wealthy person in the 1930s. It’s an impossible wish, I suppose, but it would be fun.
Leo McCarey’s direction was excellent. I don’t write often about whether or not I think the director did a good job, but that’s because I don’t know enough about directing to know how much of a part the director actually plays. I read a little bit about this movie, however, and apparently McCarey would tell people to not follow the script, to just say what they thought their character would say. He looked at things happening around him and encouraged the actors to do things on the set in character when they thought they weren’t being filmed, then used those almost candid scenes in the movie. It worked perfectly in a screwball comedy and added to the realism of the characters.
The Bad: The ending, which uses a cuckoo clock as a symbol, is ridiculous. I’m guessing that the director used it because of the Hays Code, which forbade any “indecency” in motion pictures, but I think this ending went too far in its pursuit to avoid being censored and just ended up being stupid.
The Ugly: There’s a little tiny bit of racial stereotyping, which was unfortunately common in movies from this time.
Oscars Won: Best director.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Irene Dunne); best actor in a supporting role (Ralph Bellamy); best writing, screenplay; best film editing.