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"My Favorite Wife"

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Character's Name: Nick Arden
Release Date:  May 17, 1940
Director: Garson Kanin
Studio:  RKO Radio
Running Time: 88 minutes

Cast: Cary Grant (Nick Arden), Irene Dunne (Ellen Arden), Randolph Scott (Stephen Burkett), Gail Patrick (Bianca), Ann Shoemaker (Ma), Scotty Beckett (Tim), Mary Lou Harrington (Chinch), Donald MacBride (Hotel Clerk), Hugh O'Connell (Johnson), Granville Bates (Judge), Pedro de Cordoba (Dr. Kohlmer)

- by Zoë Shaw
Nick marries Bianca, but a short time later Ellen, (his first wife) turns up after having been stranded on a desert island for seven years.......

- by Jenny Curtis
My Favorite Wife is a screwball rendering of the Enoch Emery tale, an old saw about a man thought lost at sea, who returns to find his wife remarried. The twist is that it's Ellen Arden (played brilliantly by Irene Dunne) who returns to find that her children don't recognize her and that her husband, Nick (Cary Grant) has remarried to a shrewish bride named Bianca. This complication is enough to fuel the movie for about a half an hour, making the first third of My Favorite Wife one of the most sublimely silly and smoothly acted screwball comedies ever. Dunne and Grant's chemistry in My Favorite Wife (this was their third picture together) is delicious as they take turns acting out and reacting to each other's childish schemes.

Take the scene where Ellen is first introduced to Bianca. Nick hasn't gotten up the nerve to tell his bride that his first wife's come back, so Ellen pretends to be an old family friend, "from the south." She coos out one musical barb after another while Nick squirms. Cary's scene-stealing reactions to her are perfect. The fearful look in his eyes as he stirs a martini too loudly upon hearing Bianca's version of their wedding night is one of my all-time favorite Cary Grant moments.

Unfortunately for the coherency of film, the Enoch Emery bit didn't provide quite enough material for the entire movie, so some subplots were added. Nick learns that Ellen spent her seven years of exile with a man she called "Adam," played by Uberhunk, Randolph Scott. At first, Ellen convinces a short guy who works at the shoe store to pretend to be Adam, but she is soon found out when the real Adam spots her at lunch with Nick. Then Nick's jealousy prevents the couple from reconciling and of course, Ellen's still got to find a way to explain to her children that she's their mother. Add to this mess, a stereotypical psychiatrist, a bumbling judge and Bianca's hysterical crying and you've got one very busy movie.

The ending of My Favorite Wife, strongly mirrors the earlier Dunne and Grant hit, The Awful Truth. In some respects its an homage and in other ways, it's just a pale imitation of the earlier classic. Leo McCarey who had directed the Awful Truth was scheduled to make My Favorite Wife, but in one of those "coulda-shoulda-woulda" tragedies of Hollywood, McCarey was hospitalized from a car accident and unable to direct the movie. In places where the plot was clunky it would have been wonderful to have McCarey's off the cuff ad-lib style of directing to keep things breezing along.

Still, despite its flaws, My Favorite Wife is one of my favorite Cary Grant movies. Dunne and Grant are always watchable and I find something new to love in their performances every time I watch this gem.

VARIETY Film Review - May 1, 1940
- by "Flin"
- submitted by Barry Martin
Irene Dunne and Cary Grant appear in the second of their series of wife-and-husband romantic farces, picking up the thread of marital comedy at about the point where they left off in 'The Awful Truth.'  With these two stars working again with Leo McCarey, a surefire laughing film is guaranteed.  McCarey is the producer of the new picture, which is directed by Garson Kanin, who filled in for McCarey when the latter was on the hospital list after an auto smashup last winter.  Film may not quite reach the boxoffice high of its predecessor, but it will do very satisfactory business.  

The two stars do not require (and do not get) very substantial material in order to extract a lot of fun from any domestic situation, particularly if it is slightly risqué.  Plot of the new film is pretty thin in spots and it is distinctly to the credit of the players and Kanin, that they can keep the laughs bouncing along.  In this connection they have able assistance from Randolph Scott and Gail Patrick.  Story is an original by Bella and Sam Spewack and McCarey.  The Spewacks did the script.  They have done better.

It's a pretty hard yarn to believe at the beginning when Miss Dunne turns up at home after seven years' absence from her husband and two small children, who were infants when she left on a South Sea exploration.  She was shipwrecked and tossed up on one of those invisible Pacific island.

She returns, therefore, as a female Enoch Arden, arriving on the day her husband has remarried.  Of course, if anyone had mentioned the truth to the new wife (Miss Patrick) the story would have been over right then and there before it gets underway.  Nor does Miss Dunne mention that Randolph Scott was the sole other survivor of the monsoon, and that he had come back to civilization with her.  

In the course of the unscrambling of this story, there are some very funny situations, chiefly when Grant sets off to find the man who has been his wife's companion for seven years, and discovers he is an acrobat, among his other accomplishments.  The finale has a new twist on bedroom clowning.

Principals perform with cleverness, ably supported by Ann Shoemaker, Donald MacBride and Granville Bates.  Child bits are well played by Scotty Beckett and Mary Lou Harrington.

Production is first class in every respect.  Roy Webb's musical score aids the comedy in a number of places and Rudolph Mate's photography is splendid.

Film is made to order for the top first runs and smart audiences will have a good time.  

NEW YORK TIMES Film Review - May 31, 1940
- by Bosley Crowther
- submitted by Barry Martin
This is briefly to report the discovery of a new island yesterday - a little island of joy at Fiftieth Street West and Sixth Avenue North, where Leo McCarey's "My Favorite Wife" floated into the ken of audiences at the Radio City Music Hall. Let's hoist a flag and claim it for King Comus, for this is the sort of refuge we all can find pleasure in these days - a frankly fanciful farce, a rondo of refined ribaldries and an altogether delightful picture with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne chasing each other around most charmingly in it.

Do you remember "The Awful Truth" (which was also a McCarey picture)? Do you remember Mr. Grant and Miss Dunne as the interlocutorially divided lovers, whose immediate return to domesticity was prevented by nothing much more substantial than Miss Dunne's tantalizing contrariness? Then you know pretty well what to expect in "My Favorite Wife," only more of it. Mr. McCarey is, without compare, a master of the technique of the prolonged and amorous tease; and with an actress such as Miss Dunne through whom to apply it - she with her luxurious and mocking laughter, her roving eyes and come-hither glances - mere man is powerless before it. So obviously Mr. Grant, normally susceptible male, is thrown about, bewildered and helpless, like an iron filing, when he comes within the magnetic field of Miss Dunne's allure.

For a story, Mr. McCarey and his writers, the comical Spewacks, have followed the old line of most resistance. This time it is Mr. Grant who is firmly attached to some one else when his first wife, Miss Dunne, returns from what everyone believed was a water grave. How to break away is his first problem, and then secondly how to clear his mind of the horrid suspicions which arise when he discovers that his wife really spent seven years cast away on a desert island with Randolph Scott. Poor Mr. Grant has his torments, which are finally assuaged only after another one of those particularly tantalizing chez-nous scenes with Miss Dunne. That man McCary is a sadist.

But to make it agreeable he has provided a particularly Spewacky script, full of lively wit and flashy back-talk which is clipped and stylized for speed. (The direction of Garson Kanin is spotty, and there is evidence of faults in editing - but who cares?) And the remaining cast is excellent - Gail Patrick as the second and neglected wife, who spends most of her time in negligee; Donald MacBride, as a darkly suspicious hotel manager, and Granville Bates as an acid, contemptuous and fuddle-brained judge.

In fact, Mr. Bates deserves a separate mention for his masterpiece of comic creation. Such a terrifying jurist you never saw. "Where did you go to school?" he inquires sharply of Mr. Grant. "Harvard," replies the latter. A black look, a lift of the eyebrows, then a casual "I'm a Yale man myself" leaves no doubt of Mr. Bates's sentiments. "My Favorite Wife" owes a lot to him.

Also on the bill at the Music Hall is an interesting short entitled "Cavalcade of Academy Awards," which swiftly reviews the recipients of "Oscars" over the last twelve years. It is in the nature of an industry advertisement, but has a quaint reminiscent appeal.  

LOS ANGELES TIMES Film Review - June 29, 1940
- by Philip K Scheuer
- submitted by Renee Klish

The "I" of "My Favorite Wife" is Cary Grant, and his favorite wife is Irene Dunne.  She was his first; but after she had gone off with an anthropological expedition and had been reported dead, he married Gail Patrick. Then she came home.

You can see what all this would lead to.  To complicate matters more, another member of the expedition also returns.  He has been in love with Miss Dunne for seven years and has progressed to the point of addressing her as "Eve," although no farther.  She calls him "Adam."  (Randolph Scott in the role.)


The picture, now at Pantage Hollywood and the downtown Hillstreet, is one of those non-sense affairs underlaid with shrewd psychological sense which Ernst Lubitsch, and laterly Leo McCarey, have contributed to the laughter of a world which needs it badly.  Mr. Carey produced "My Favorite Wife" and Garson Kanin, who gave us the matchless "Bachelor Mother" a year or so ago, directed.  The result is nearly as gratifying as you could wish.

I say "nearly" because the logic hangs by so slender a thread that the necessity of it occasionally snaps and has to be tied up again - as it may when characters are shown to be intelligent.  We know that THEY know how easily a few words would clear up the whole mess but we also know (as they do, that if the words were spoken there would be no more story.)  So we go along with them as far as we can, parties to a deception which is as agreeable to us as it is to them.  When the end is inseparably reached - as it is here in the second courtroom sequence - the rest is bound to seem like an anticlimax.

The closing portions, therefore, struck this reviewer as labored rehash of the hilarious bedroom finale to "The Awful Truth," with the same stars. 


Coyness in Mr. Grant is still acceptable because he is so darned likable.  However, I thought I caught him smiling a couple of times when he shouldn't have been, which is not like the careful actor he has demonstrated himself to be.  Coquetry in Miss Dunne is something else again - but people seem enchanted by it and to interpose an objection is futile.  I still say that, for an un-coy type, she does very nicely.

Scott is well cast as the Adonis.  There is a gem of a performance as the judge by Granville Bates. The other players are pretty rough on Miss Patrick, whose role does not make her as unsympathetic as perhaps it should have - or is it vice versa?  Ann Shoemaker, Donald MacBride and two kids, Scotty Beckett and Mary Lou Herrington, are admirable.

The gay complexities of plot were devised by Sam and Bella Spewack, with McCarey.  It's a beautiful job of writing.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR Film Review - June 21, 1940
- by J.D.B.
- submitted by Renee Klish

It is no secret by now that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne can play a blithe comedy obbligato on the domestic symphone; that Garson Kanin is an important new director; that Leo McCarey can turn out a crisp comedy, and that Bella and Samuel Spewack are among the more practiced of farceurs.  Fresh from the RKO kitchens, "My Favorite Wife" bears the collaborative mark of the aforementioned talents.  It is probably the funniest farce of the year to date and proves that an assortment of distinguished chefs need not necessarily spoil the soufflé.

Soufflé it is, with perhaps just a soupcon of bitter herbs in the sauce, though "bitter" is putting it too strongly.  The only real bitterness is that provided by Gail Patrick as Bianca, the second Mrs. Arden, whom Nick Arden (Mr. Grant) feels impelled to discard when the first Mrs. Arden (Miss Dunne), an explorer, pops on to the scene after being marooned seven years on a desert isle.

The Spewacks and Director Kanin manage to protract the farcical dilemmas for 88 minutes while Nick struggles to explain things to the second Mrs. Arden so he can secure an annulment and remarry Ellen, the first wife.  His discomfiture is not eased by the discovery Ellen was marooned with a fellow explorer, Steve Burkett (Randolph Scott), who would like to marry her.  Among the film's funniest scenes are those in the courtroom over which Granville Bates presides with judicial asperity and a supreme scorn for Harvard men.  Nick's first encounter with Ellen and, later, his meeting with Brukett are funny too.  But then, the film is full of funny moments, thought the farcical upholstery becomes a bit overstuffed toward the end to cushion the inevitable fall.

Miss Dunne plays Ellen with her delectably cool and elegant comedy technique.  Mr. Grant is such a good comedian that he never has to rely on his good looks.  Gail Patrick is also particularly attractive, and it is to her credit that she never relents in making Bianca thoroughly unpleasant, the sort of woman who would attach herself to a husband sailing through the South Seas in search of his first wife.  Randolph Scott is all smiles and athletic wiles as Burkett.  Ann Schoemaker as Nick's mother, Scotty Beckett and Mary Lou Harrington as the Arden offspring, Donald McBride, Hugh O'Connell, and Pedro de Corboda help whip up the domestic froth for an excellent adult farce.  

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