Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Title: Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Year: 1941
Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
Screenplay: Norman Krasna
Source Material: This was an original screenplay
Running Time: 90 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 28th November, 11:50am
One of my Hitchcock books states that Suspicion comes first, but others (more accurately) tell how Mr. and Mrs. Smith was filmed first and screened first, so I don't know why sources differ.
This was one of my last batch of Hitchcock films to own on DVD and so I had not seen it that long ago, but I am a stickler for doing things correctly and I have to watch everything chronologically.
Is it getting too tedious me mentioning how I watch these movies laid out on the settee with a mug of tea and a snack (in today's case, two mince pies)? If so, tough luck.
I might also add that Fizzgig, my delightful ten-year-old female ginger British Short-hair cat, was more than happy to sprawl over my chest and left shoulder throughout the movie, making it rather difficult to take notes along the way. Oh well, she loves me and I couldn't bear to move her.

Ann Krausheimer Smith - Carole Lombard
David Smith - Robert Montgomery
Jefferon Custer - Gene Raymond
Chuck Benson - Jack Carson
Mr Custer - Philip Merivale
Mrs Custer - Lucille Watson
Sammy - William Tracy
Mr Harry Deever - Charles Halton
Mrs Krausheimer - Esther Dale
Martha - Emma Dunn
Gertie - Betty Compson
Gloria - Patricia Farr
Proprietor of 'Mama Lucy's' - William Edmunds
Lily - Adele Pearce

It's New York. A couple are in their bedroom of their serviced apartment and evidence suggests they have not been out for days. He is sat on the floor (tellingly) playing Solitaire with cards and she is under the bed covers.
The couple are Ann and David Smith. They have been married since 1937 and they live their married lives with certain rules which they adhere too strictly. One such rule is that if they have a fight, they are not allowed to leave the bedroom until they have made up - we are catching them at the end of a three-day sulk-fest.
Having made up, they dress and have breakfast together. They seem quite smug about how their rules work (her more so than he) and contemplate that many divorces would not happen should everyone abide by them in this way.
However, this very morning, Ann asks a hypothetical question to David - if he had the chance to do it all over again, would he still marry her. He answers honestly and says 'no'.
Rather than be impressed with his honesty, she is hurt.

At his office that day, David meets a man named Harry Deever who informs him that there were a number of weddings performed between 1936 and the present day in Beecham that, due to a rather annoying geographical technicality based on jurisdiction, their marriage is actually not legal. David is rather amused by this. He calls Ann at home but does not tell her - instead he asks her out for dinner that evening at the restaurant from their premarital days.
Unfortunately for David, Mr Deever also calls in on Ann (who is being visited by her mother) and tells her the news.
Ann's mother is appalled at the news, but Ann is rather excited about the evening's romantic dinner - she is expecting him to propose all over again. She even digs out her old wedding outfit to wear.

That evening, they attend 'Mama Lucy's' but it is no longer the dreamy little eatery they once knew. It is now a run-down cafe with little charm and a cat who eats off the tables. They try to make the best of it, but are put off by some poor children staring at them and the cat who sits on their table refusing to even touch their food.
David is teasing out the evening, enjoying himself, unaware that Ann knows the truth about their sham marriage.

Back at their apartment, he continues his game of "I know something you don't know" until she loses her temper and throws a bottle of champagne at him. Then it all comes out. She assumes he was waiting to sleep with her again before telling her, but she is having none of it. She is appalled by his deception and throws him out.

He has to attend the gentleman's club known as 'Beefeaters' where he meets up with an old friend, Chuck Benson, who gives him some masculine camaraderie.
Over the next few days, David does what he can to get to see Ann and talk to her. She slams the door in his face, giving him a nosebleed; he waits for her in the foyer of her building, only to find her returning home from a dinner date with an elderly gent; he even jumps into the same taxi as her only to find she has now got her own job in a department store. It seems the elderly gent was to be her employer.

He makes quite a scene in the store and upon discovering that their new employee is 'married' (it is against their policy to employ married women in this time of unemployment crisis) and seemingly rather erratic, they are both ejected from the building.

David talks to his partner, Jefferson Custer, about the situation because the whole scenario has affected his work. Jeff says he'll talk to Ann. That night, when David turns up, Jeff has sided with Ann, telling her she has every right to remain single and even asks her out on a date himself.

Poor David returns to Beefeaters where Chuck suggests they have a double date - David suggests that they do so at the same nightclub/restaurant that Jeff and Ann will be dining at.

The evening is a disaster! David's date is a little too common for his taste and his attempt at making Ann jealous falls flat on its face. He gives himself a nosebleed in order to escape the situation but does, in fact, make the whole nightmare worse.

Ann leaves with Jeff to get a different atmosphere and they attend the fairground where they both get stuck on a ride in a downpour. Once rescued (but on the verge of pneumonia), they return to Jeff's apartment where she forces the non-drinker to take some alcohol. It only takes two glasses to get him sloshed.

Later in the week, it appears that David has been pretending to be a private detective and has hired a cab driver to follow Ann around. They follow her to his own offices. When he catches up with her inside, he discovers her meeting with Jeff and his parents. David intervenes and gives them a bit of a history lesson telling tales which make the Custers believe Ann is white trash.
Ann is furious with David and his underhand tactics.

Time moves on and Jeff has taken Ann to the hills for a skiing trip. The lodge is full, but there are some cabins nearby where they can stay - they only need a sleigh ride to and from the lodge for meals, other than that, they have relative privacy - except David is there. He is cold and he passes out. they carry him inside and nurse him back to health. However, he is feigning his illness just to illicit sympathy from Ann - it seems to work. Jeff notices and tells Ann he is willing to step aside as he just wants her to be happy. She thinks he is talking nonsense.
When Ann realises that David has been faking it, she loses her temper. She plans to make him hate her by acting out a charade in the neighbouring cabin involving rather dubious sexual shenanigans. David is furious and storms in to catch her. She tells him how she feels and how she wanted him out of her life. The Custers (all three) arrive and Jeff's parents are not impressed. They take Jefferson away back to the lodge by sleigh, leaving David and Ann alone.
She is willing to ski back to the lodge, despite her lack of skill. David offers to help her on with her skis, but she becomes locked into them and struggles to stand up again. Like Shakespeare's shrew, she kicks up a fuss, but as David settles in for the night and moves in for the kiss, she relents and the two make up once more...

Great Lines
For a screwball comedy, there are actually not that many examples of crackling dialogue, but I want to highlight a handful that made me smile.

When Ann is trying on her old outfit from her wedding day, she complains to her maid; "I can't understand anything hanging in the closet shrinking so much!"

During the scene at 'Mama Lucy's', Ann's mother calls to find out how it is going and upon hearing the rather negative response, she retorts; "Oh my poor baby - thank heavens your father is dead!"

Whilst Ann is shaving the 'semi-unconscious' David at the log cabin, he reaches out for Jeff's hand as if expecting a manicure. They humour him, but...

Jeff: "He's squeezing my hand!"
Ann: "In a few moments he'll probably ask for your phone number."

Finally, in a rather explosive tantrum, Ann loses her patience with Jeff and David. Whilst holding a lamp, ready to throw it at the first sign of provocation, she launches into this tirade...

"(To Jeff:) Listen to me you stuffed shirt; even a mouse has enough back bone to fight some times. You know, taking your hat off in an elevator doesn't make a man out of you - you can teach a monkey to do that... and I'll take a mouse or a monkey anytime - whether he's a dipsomaniac of beats his wife - over a lump of jelly like you! (to David:) But I'm not taking you... (back to Jeff:) Why don't you go out and get a girl guide and go camping together!! Let me out of here before I forget I'm a lady!!"

After she storms out, David simply states to Jeff and his appalled parents; "You have just seen her in one of her quieter moods."

This one is a rarity amongst Hitchcock films - it's a screwball comedy - but with his dear friend Carole Lombard eager to star, he was happy to do something a little different (although in later years he would admit to having his doubts about wanting to film it. In his words; "I want to direct a typical American comedy about typical Americans" which, with hindsight, could be an insult in disguise given how the main characters behave toward each other.
In an interview with David Brady, published in the new york times in 1950, hitch stated; "If I seem doomed to make one type of picture, the movie audience is responsible. people go to one of my films expecting a thriller, and they aren't satisfied until the thrill turns up."

For me, the best scene in the film is where David is out on his double date with Chuck and the two somewhat uncouth girls and when David spies Ann there with Jeff, he feigns conversation with the beautiful woman to his left on the adjoining table to make it appear he is with her. The comic timing as she and her actual partner catch him before he realises is, as they say, 'comedy gold'.
It's also a hoot watching Robert Montgomery trying to give himself a nosebleed in order to get out of the situation he's in.

Although it may seem churlish to say, it is a great shame Cary Grant (the first choice for the role of David Smith) was unavailable due to other work commitments - he would have been splendid in the lead role as he has proved in other films such as the delightful Bringing Up Baby. I do not want to take credit away from Robert Montgomery though - he does a fine job. (And, fact fans, he was also the father of Bewitched's Elizabeth Montgomery, so that's all rather splendid - I still think she was one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the Earth.)

Sadly, this was to be Carole Lombard's penultimate movie as she died just a year later in a plane crash. She was only 33.

My Verdict
I love screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s, but I am afraid to say this is not one of the best. It needs better (and more) gags; it does entertain though. Sadly, the ending is rather weak. 6/10

Quotes from the interviews with Hitchcock are taken from 'Hitchcock on Hitchcock' edited by Sidney Gottlieb and 'The Dark Side of Genius' by Donald Spoto.

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