The Awful Truth: Criterion Collection (1937)

5 Reels

Video: 5 Reels

Audio: 4 Reels

Special Features: 4 Reels

If you ever get a hankering for some solid improvisational comedic skills on display throughout a major motion picture, look no further then director Leo McCarey’s slapstick comedy, The Awful Truth.  It might have been his first film for Columbia Pictures, but that didn’t stop McCarey from doing what he does best: allowing his actors to freewheel snappy dialogue and come up with some wild situations right there on the spot.

And Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, who would team up again in My Favorite Wife (1940) and Penny Serenade (1941), were all for it.  Want proof, just look at their reactions to the improvised dance number with Ralph Bellamy.  They can barely keep a straight face.

The Awful Truth is that Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy (Irene Dunne) Warriner absolutely love each other.  They just don’t believe the stories they are hearing when they suspect each other of having affairs.  On the day that Jerry returns from Florida without a tan (where he wasn’t), Lucy arrives home wearing the evening gown she had on the night before and blames her voice teacher’s car trouble for causing her to be out all night long.  Neither one believes each other’s story and thus begins the hilarity in this screwball classic from 1937.

Director Leo McCarey’s black-and-white comedy firmly establishes the Cary Grant persona we all know and love and, with the easiest of motions, Grant dives into the role, recognizing his chance to fill the demands of the part definitively.  He delivers with scene stealing moments that have him getting a supremely dark tan to disguise that he was really on the opposite coast, fighting with the voice teacher, reacting to a hilarious nightclub performance, and sharing vocal duties as he duets while playing the piano with Skippy (also scene in The Thin Man and Bringing Up Baby) as the couple’s dog, Mr. Smith, which they share visitation with when they decide - rather suddenly - to get a divorce.

Divorce?  Yes, that’s at the center of this classic comedy as Jerry, claiming he can’t trust Lucy anymore, keeps pushing the envelope with her about her night with the handsome music teacher, Armand Duvalle (Alexander D'Arcy).  His suspicion annoys her and her suspicion about the California oranges he bought for her to hide the fact that he wasn’t actually in Florida like he said he was annoys her.  So, the two - in a hilarious courtroom scene - go about getting a divorce and moving on with their lives.

Except they keep trying to ruin each other's chances with new love interests.

Jerry takes up a relationship with a sexually suggestive singer, Dixie Belle Lee (Joyce Compton), and Lucy finds herself the apple of Oklahoma oilman Dan Leeson’s (Ralph Bellamy) eye, much to her own chagrin.  The two fools - that being Jerry and Lucy - are obviously still in love with each other, but much of the hilarity in The Awful Truth comes from the lengths they will go to try and deny that they have a mutual affection for each other.

The trouble is that the truth keeps rearing its ugly head as innocent social invitations lead to complicated and hilarious tensions because the two stubborn leads keep bumping into each other, traveling the same social circles and not prepared to give up the other one to someone new.  

Fast-paced and fun, thanks to editor Al Clark, The Awful Truth is a film you don’t dare look away from as it plays.  You might miss something the actors are doing in the scene.  Everyone brings something to this charming yarn.  It is also charged with great acrobatics from Grant and singing from Dunne, it will have you teary-eyed in no time thanks to the comedy on display as a husband and a wife learn the hard way about what keeps them together: their own stubbornness.  

The Awful Truth, a true REEL CLASSIC, is on blu-ray thanks to the Criterion Collection’s 4K restoration.  

Blu-ray Specifications:

In this Oscar-winning farce, Cary Grant (in the role that first defined the Cary Grant persona) and Irene Dunne exude charm, cunning, and artless affection as an urbane couple who, fed up with each other’s infidelities, resolve to file for divorce. But try as they might to move on, the mischievous Jerry can’t help meddling in Lucy’s ill-matched engagement to a corn-fed Oklahoma businessman (Ralph Bellamy), and a mortified Lucy begins to realize that she may be saying goodbye to the only dance partner capable of following her lead. Directed by the versatile Leo McCarey, a master of improvisation and slapstick as well as a keen and sympathetic observer of human folly, The Awful Truth is a warm but unsparing comedy about two people whose flaws only make them more irresistible.

Video:

The grace!  The elegance!  Dunne and Grant together again in 4K!  Criterion Collection, with a 1.37:1 aspect ratio, presents The Awful Truth with a glorious 4K transfer that sweeps away sour memories of watching the old DVD copies of the film.  Thank goodness!  This crisp transfer absolutely crackles with depth, definition, and details as we get looks at nightclubs, apartment buildings, and even a courtroom and it all looks amazingly handled.  Even the night scene in the cabin is pocketed with details.  The black-and-white photography here sizzles and the blacks and grays are handled expertly by the transfer. 

Audio:

You’ll be heard laughing over the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which accompanies this film.

Special Features:

Including an essay from author and critic Molly Haskell, the Criterion Collection’s release of The Awful Truth features a video essay, an audio interview, and an interview with critic Gary Giddins about the improvisational style that McCarey used throughout the film.

4K digital restoration of the feature

Video essay on Cary Grant before The Awful Truth and McCarey’s impact on the actor’s theatrical persona, from critic David Cairns

Audio interview from 1978 with actress Irene Dunne, illustrated with film stills & clips

Interview with critic Gary Giddins about director McCarey’s improvisational style and the creation of The Awful Truth

Essay from author and critic Molly Haskell

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