The cinematic context
11 May 2010
There are a number of direct similarities between this movie and the 1935 Paramount film "Hands Across the Table," starring Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray. Both films have the main male character getting a fake tan from a sun lamp. Both have scenes where the male and female character are up at night in separate rooms, pacing up and down and wondering whether or not one should join the other. Both have Ralph Bellamy as the "other man," the "loser," certain to be dropped by the leading lady in favor of the star. In fact, Bellamy's character in this film is called "Leeson," which is how one would actually pronounce the last name of the director of "Hands Across the Table," Mitchell Leisen! (I was half expecting to see Bellamy bring out the wheelchair that he had in the earlier film!)

Maybe the similarities in the two films lie with Viña Delmar? She's identified as being on the writing team for both. In a way, "The Awful Truth" is a more comedic, more zany re-working of "Hands Across the Table." Instead of Fred MacMurray trying to put one over on his fiancé with the help of manicurist Carole Lombard, in "The Awful Truth," it's Cary Grant trying to put one over on his wife Irene Dunne who in this case is now in on the gag.

"The Awful Truth" is the stronger film mainly because of the director and the actors. The material isn't taken too seriously. The improvisation that reportedly took place on the film works in playing up the extra light touch. It also gives the movie a kind of energy and a feeling of spontaneity that "Hands Across the Table" and other studio films from this period lacked. With "The Awful Truth," each scene feels like a moment.

One other interesting note: At the end, it seems likely that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne will now spend the night together in the one room on the one bed. But, as they mentioned, their divorce is official at midnight! They're going to wake up and not be married! Where was the Production Code here? Where's the reference to calling up a preacher to hurry over and remarry them quick, or to waiting until tomorrow to do the deed, after getting re-hitched? My goodness gracious!
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