Irene Dunne

My Favorite Wife (1940)

My Favorite Wife

Seven years after being lost at sea, Nick Arden (Cary Grant) has his wife Ellen (Irene Dunne) legally declared dead and gets re-married to Bianca (Gail Patrick). Just as Nick and Bianca are heading off on their honeymoon together, Ellen arrives back at home. It turns out she had spent the past seven years stuck on a deserted island and finally been rescued. On the trip home, Ellen had time to mentally prepare herself for all the things she expected to change in her absence, but the one thing she hadn’t expected is that Nick may have re-married. When she hears where Nick and Bianca have left for their honeymoon, she goes to see find them.

Obviously, Nick is stunned to see his first wife waiting for him at the hotel. He doesn’t have a clue about how he should explain a situation like this to Bianca, so he does his best to hide it from her, which brings out some very odd behavior. Bianca is considering leaving Nick and wants to get him professional help. But then this situation gets even complicated when Nick gets a visit from an insurance adjuster who informs him that Ellen wasn’t alone on an island all that time, she was there with a man named Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott).

Desperate to assure Nick that nothing happened between her and Stephen on the island, Ellen convinces a bland-looking shoe salesman to pose as Stephen and meet with Nick. However, Nick has already done his homework and knows the real Stephen is far more attractive. Just as Nick finally tries to tell Bianca the truth about what’s been going on, she doesn’t believe him until he is suddenly arrested for bigamy and the whole crazy incident gets dragged into a courtroom.

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne really deserve more credit for being a great on-screen duo. They may not have made as many movies as Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy or Myrna Loy and William Powell, but The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife alone are amazing enough for me to put them in that league. It might be easy to think of My Favorite Wife as not being particularly original since it went on to be re-made as Move Over, Darling (and almost re-made as Something’s Gotta Give with Marilyn Monroe, Cyd Charisse, and Dean Martin) and Too Many Husbands has a very similar plot, but My Favorite Wife manages to shine just a bit brighter than the others. While Too Many Husbands felt like a one-note movie that got old fast, My Favorite Wife never felt stale. Simply, it’s a fantastically madcap romantic comedy and that’s all it tries to be.

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What’s on TCM: December 2013

Astaire and Rogers in Swing Time2013 is drawing to a close and TCM is ending the year in style!  If you like musicals, this is your kind of month.  First of all, Fred Astaire is December’s Star of the Month!  So put on your dancing shoes every Wednesday night and get ready for lots of fabulous dance scenes.  On December 18, there will be a tribute to Betty Comden and Adolph Green so there will be a lot of excellent musicals on during the day.  New Year’s Eve will also be very musical with rock and roll oriented movies during the day and the That’s Entertainment! series playing all night long.

This theme for December’s edition of Friday Night Spotlight is The Hollywood Costume, which is curated by costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis.  If you enjoyed participating in or reading posts from the Fashion in Film Blogathon, I’m sure you’re going to love this series.

Remember how last month I said that the Story of Film series was finishing up?  Yeah, I have no idea what I was thinking when I said that.  It definitely ends this month.  I apologize for my mistake.

Since it’s December, there will be lots of classic Christmas movies to look forward to.  On December 30th, TCM will also be honoring some stars we lost in 2012 but were not already honored with special tributes including Deanna Durbin, Annette Funicello, and Karen Black.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the schedule…

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Thirteen Women (1932)

When a group of sorority sisters all write to the renowned Swami Yogadachi (C. Henry Gordon) for their horoscopes, nothing good comes of it. First June Raskob (Mary Duncan) gets a letter from him saying that her sister May (Harriet Hagman) will die because of something she does.  June and May are trapeze performers and the Swami’s prediction makes June so nervous that she fails to catch May while performing a dangerous stunt. Then there’s Hazel Cousins (Peg Entwistle), who is told she will wind up in prison.  Sure enough, soon after, she murders her husband and finds herself in prison.

When Helen Frye’s (Kay Johnson) horoscope predicts that she will kill herself, she calls up her friend Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne) for some reassurance.  Laura sees all of these untimely deaths as nothing more than coincidence and invites Helen to come visit.  While on the train, Helen meets Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy), another one of her former classmates. But what Helen doesn’t know is that all those fatal horoscopes are actually from Ursula, not the Swami. Ursula had wanted to be part of their circle of friends, but was rejected because of her mixed-race heritage. Now that she’s working with the Swami, she’s using the horoscopes and her hypnotic powers to exact her revenge.

After Helen kills herself on the train, Laura starts taking the horoscopes more seriously.  Her horoscope predicted that her son would die of a terrible accident on his upcoming birthday. When her son is mysteriously sent a box of poisoned candy, Helen turns to Sergeant Clive (Ricardo Cortez), who quickly makes the connection between Ursula and the deaths and comes up with a plan to catch her on a train by using Laura as bait.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by Thirteen Women. I didn’t have particularly high expectations for it, but I was impressed by how genuinely tense and scary it was. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Myrna Loy play a villain like that before, but she was quite wonderfully sinister and I loved it. The story is a bit rushed at times.  Seriously, this movie features the fastest police investigation I have ever seen.  But for a movie that’s only a little over an hour long, it could have been a lot more rushed than it was and it’s strong enough in other ways that I have no problem forgiving the unrealistically fast investigation.  This is one movie that deserves to be seen more often.

My biggest complaint about Thirteen Women is that we barely get a chance to see Peg Entwistle. Peg Entwistle is infamous for having committed suicide by jumping off the Hollywood Sign in 1932, but she was first and foremost a very promising stage actress. Bette Davis always cited Peg’s performance as Hedvig in Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” as being her biggest inspiration to become an actress. Thirteen Women was the one and only film Entwistle made and if you blink, you’ll miss her. It’s too bad that now no one will ever be able to see just how talented she really was. I know I’d love to get a good look at the woman who inspired Bette Davis!

Bachelor Apartment (1931)

Wayne Carter (Lowell Sherman) is easily one of the most eligible bachelors in Manhattan. So many women visit his apartment that he has an entire drawer for all the things his various companions leave behind. Carter’s loyal butler Rollins (Charles Coleman) thinks he ought to settle down, but he just isn’t the marrying kind.

Lita Andrews (Claudia Dell) is an aspiring showgirl and gold digger, and when she goes to Carter’s apartment for lunch one day, her sister Helene (Irene Dunne) has to come over to let her know about an important job offer. Helene is much more proper than Lita and isn’t a gold digger, which Carter finds very endearing.  So when he finds out that Helene is looking for work as a stenographer, he personally gives her a job. Helene has reservations about working for such a notorious womanizer, but she’s in no position to turn down $50 a week.

It doesn’t take long for Helene to see that Carter means very well with her and he even gets Lita a job in a good show. She and Carter end up hitting it off and fall in love with each other. But while working at his apartment one day, Helene witnesses some of Carter’s former lovers stopping by, including Agatha Carraway (Mae Murray). Agatha very much wants to get back together with Carter, but even though he couldn’t be less interested in her, she won’t take no for an answer. Helene is disappointed in him and he knows it. He can’t bring himself to face her for a week after that, but their time apart confirms that she’s the only one for him.

Once Helene and Carter reconcile, she comes by his apartment and unexpectedly finds herself caught in the middle of a fight between Carter, Agatha, and Agatha’s gun-toting husband.  To make matters worse, when she goes home, she gets into a fight with Lita and she walks out on Helene.  But when Carter helps her find Lita, everything is forgiven and she and Carter can live happily ever after.

Bachelor Apartment isn’t a particularly noteworthy movie, but Lowell Sherman and Mae Murray brought some good life to an otherwise completely forgettable movie.  If you’re a big Irene Dunne fan, you might be a bit let down by it because she is totally overshadowed by Sherman and Murray.  At best, it’s a pleasant enough comedy to keep you busy for a little over an hour. It’s nothing worth going out of your way to see, but there are certainly worse movies you could spend your time watching.

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

When their local newspaper begins running excerpts from Caroline Adams’ risqué book “The Sinner,” the town of Lynnfield, Connecticut is scandalized.  The paper’s editor gets lots of complaints from the town’s literary circle, particularly Theodora Lynn (Irene Dunn), her spinster aunts Mary and Elsie (Elizabeth Risdon and Margaret McWade, respectively), and Rebecca Perry (Spring Byington),  who get him to stop running the excerpts.  Theodora is an upstanding member of the community, but what nobody else knows is that Theodora is actually Caroline Adams.

Upset that her hometown paper was allowed to run those excerpts, Theodora takes a trip to New York to visit her publisher Arthur Stevenson (Thurston Hall).  Arthur really wants Theodora to do some publicity for her wildly successful book, but she doesn’t want to shame her family.  While in New York, Theodora is introduced to illustrator Michael Grant (Melvyn Douglas), who designed the cover of her book.  Michael is immediately suspects Theodora isn’t the worldly woman you’d expect the author of “The Sinner” to be.  He calls her out on it and, determined to prove him wrong, she gets drunk with him that night.  But when he tries to seduce her, she ends up running from his apartment.

When Theodora heads back to Lynnfield, Michael follows her to see just how tame her life really is.  When her aunts ask who he is, he poses as an out-of-work gardener named Dubarry.  Theodora hires him to take care of their yard, despite her aunts’ objections, and Michael/Dubarry becomes the talk of the town. He and Theodora fall in love with each other, but Michael really believes in her and wants to help her break free of her repressed environment so she can reach her full potential.  Even though their relationship is completely innocent, it still shocks the entire town.  After a while, Michael returns to New York and Theodora follows him.  She finds out that Michael is also stuck in an unhappy situation and the best way she can think of to get him out of it is to let her hair down the way Michael has encouraged her to.

Even though I don’t think Melvyn Douglas was Irene Dunne’s best leading man, Theodora Goes Wild is a lot of fun.  The script is very witty and Dunne is a riot.  Melvyn is great in it, too, but it’s awfully hard to top Cary Grant as my favorite Irene Dunne co-star. I wouldn’t call it one of the all-time great screwball comedies, but it is very enjoyable nonetheless.

What’s on TCM: August 2012

How is it already time for another round of Summer Under the Stars?!  As usual, TCM has done a great job of coming up with a nice blend of stars who are no strangers to the SUTS schedule and stars who have never been featured before.  The more I look at the schedule, the more excited I get to start my Blogging Under the Stars marathon.

Some of the days I’m most looking forward to are: Myrna Loy (August 2), Marilyn Monroe (August 4), Toshiro Mifune (August 9), Ginger Rogers (August 12), James Cagney (August 14), Lillian Gish (August 15), Jack Lemmon (August 22), Gene Kelly (August 23), Kay Francis (August 21), and Warren William (August 30).  I have seen woefully few Akira Kurosawa films, so I am really looking forward to Toshiro Mifune’s day.  As a fan of silents and pre-codes, I was thrilled to see Lillian Gish, Kay Francis, and Warren William got spots on this year’s line-up.  Lately, I’ve been really getting into Tyrone Power movies, so I’m glad to see he got a day this year.  And since I’ve always wanted to see more Jeanette MacDonald movies, I’ll definitely be tuning in a lot for her day.

The complete Summer Under the Stars schedule is available to be download here.

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What’s on TCM: December 2011

We’re down to the last month of 2011 already!  TCM will be closing out the year in top form.  December’s star of the month is William Powell, which I am very excited about since I’m a big fan of his.  It also means we get two nights of movies featuring him with Myrna Loy, one night being the entire Thin Man series and another night featuring their other collaborations.  His movies will be showcased every Thursday night this month.  TCM will also be celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens a little early (his birthday isn’t actually until February) by devoting Monday nights to showing various film adaptations of his work.  And of course there are Christmas classics galore to look forward to!

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