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Countdown to the Oscars: The ‘Truth’ shall set you free

This Columbia gem created the ‘screwball’ mold

Posted: December 11, 2008 8:19 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Irene Dunn, who starred in the 1931 Best Picture, "Cimmaron," finds out "The Awful Truth" with Cary Grant in 1937.

 

"The Awful Truth" from 1937 is the film that introduced us to the Cary Grant everyone remembers.

This picture catapulted him to status of a legend and from that point forward made him the most desired star in the Hollywood arena.

It's a film that has screwball humor at every corner with extraordinary wit, but also features the complexity of that thing called love which makes the characters do things seemingly out of the ordinary.

This picture won an Academy Award for Leo McCarey for Best Director in that wonderful period where his competition was of the highest order.

He nabbed the golden statuette against the likes of William Dieterle ("The Life of Emile Zola"), Sidney Franklin ("The Good Earth"), Gregory La Cava ("Stage Door") and William Wellman ("A Star is Born").

The strange thing is that this film was almost a failure because of McCarey's improvisational style.

There was no script for this picture, something unheard of in those days. McCarey would just make up the scenes as he went along asking the actors as well to improvise most of their dialogue.

For most actors this would be a disaster, but for a master of ad-libbing, physical comedy and dialogue, this was right up the alley for Cary Grant.

At first, he hated the no-script idea and threatened to walk out. But, once in the mix of the comedy he decided this picture would be his prototype.

The plot of this picture was a little peculiar for the era. It dealt with divorce, but the way it was handled by Irene Dunne and Cary Grant it made divorce seem like a breeze, as is the notion of screwball comedy.

And maybe what makes this film so hilarious are the reasons people resort to divorce in the first place.

Grant is Jerry Warriner and Dunne is Lucy Warriner, a well-to-do married couple living in the high society of New York. They seem wonderfully happy until one event sparks both of their doubts about each other's fidelity.

This leads them to decide to get a divorce and in court there is even a dispute over to whom their lovable dog Mr. Smith will end up with. She, of course, schemes a way to attract the attention of the dog more than Jerry can and the matter is settled. He, however gets awarded visitation rights to see the dog.

After this, feeling lonely, Lucy meets an awkward Oklahoma man played to the hilt by Ralph Bellamy, who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination (he lost to Joseph Schildkraut in "The Life of Emile Zola").

Both Lucy and Jerry begin dating and both of them try to sabotage their relationships, but the question is how?

That's the magic of this movie.

This movie shows Irene Dunne and Cary Grant at their peak of their stardom with Dunne's incredible voice shining as always and Grant's impeccable timing and humor.

Yet, the sentimental parts are not to be missed for they show the vulnerable side of the two characters; their side which makes the irresistible.

And while Dunne was nominated as Best Actress (the Academy chose "The Good Earth's" Luise Rainer), it was a bit of a shame that Grant did not receive a nod for his excellent work.

In fact, Cary Grant was only nominated for Best Actor twice, but only for sappy, melodramatic roles ("Penny Serenade" and "None But the Lonely Heart") not for his classic suave comedy performances or even any of his work with Alfred Hitchcock. Amazing.

It's almost a flawless comedy with a joy of life that transcends comedies even till today.

Watching Cary and Irene makes you feel good and brings hope to the idea of that perfect love without saying it.

It's simply a picture that time cannot touch no matter how many years go by.

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