Judge Diane Wild thinks that Alfred Hitchcock and screwball comedy go together like pickle juice and angel food cake.
"If you had to do it all over again, would you have married
Not to be confused with the upcoming Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie picture Mr. and Mrs. Smith, this 1941 film is a romantic comedy by Alfred Hitchcock. Yes, you read that right. The master of suspense was at the helm of this light, frothy comedy.
Facts of the Case
David and Ann Smith (Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard) are a wealthy, loving couple who bicker affectionately and live by the sometimes silly rules that Mrs. Smith has laid down. One morning, Mr. Smith makes the mistake many men before and since have fallen prey to—he answers her loaded question as if she wanted an honest answer. In this case, the question is a hypothetical: "If you had to do it all over again, would you have married me?" He responds that as much as he loves her, he would probably have stayed single and enjoyed his freedom longer.
In the interest of marital harmony everywhere, repeat after me, men: "Do I look fat in this?" "No!" "Would you still have married me?" "Yes!"
My public service announcement is too late for Mr. Smith, though. Later that day, while Ann stews, they find out that because of a technicality, they are not in fact legally married. Ann takes the opportunity to date David's business partner and friend Jeff (Gene Raymond) while David tries to convince her that he would in fact like to marry her all over again.
Carole Lombard and Alfred Hitchcock were great friends, and he directed this film in honor of her, the queen of the screwball comedy. Unfortunately Mr. & Mrs. Smith doesn't showcase either of their talents. It is an interesting curio only because it was Hitchcock's only foray into straight comedy and was Lombard's second-last film before her death at 33 in a plane crash.
Not quite screwy enough to be a screwball comedy, the paper-thin script offers a few battle-of-the-sexes laughs and some witty repartee, but not enough to sustain interest through an hour and a half.
The great screwball comedies are non-stop madcap fun, like My Man Godfrey (Lombard's only Oscar nomination) and The Awful Truth (which is like a mirror image of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, dealing with a couple on their way to a divorce). But here the comedy never rises to madcap and the radiant Lombard far outshines both male costars. Since the ending of a romantic comedy is a given, the point of the movie should be to carry the audience along to the conclusion that the heroine is meant to be with her hero. Instead, I was left thinking "she could have done better."
If you really look, you might see touches of classic Hitchcock. One almost-sinister scene shows Ann shaving David with straight razor while talking about trust. If you didn't know it was Hitchcock, you might get a mild chuckle out of the irony. As it is, you're almost disappointed that she doesn't slit his throat. And while the movie is directed competently, there are few technically interesting shots.
Even the extras are paltry. Where's the director's commentary? Where's the cast and crew interviews? Oh…right, never mind. Anyway, the making-of featurette is a great addition, featuring director Peter Bogdanovich and Hitchcock's daughter and granddaughter, among others, talking about the film and the personalities behind it. There are fun tidbits, like the fact that Lombard brought three calves to the set, mocking Hitchcock's famous quote that actors should be treated like cattle. The only other extra is the original trailer, which tellingly makes no mention of Hitchcock's name, though it contains misleading lines like "I nearly died laughing" and "what caused the panic?"
Don't be fooled by the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It doesn't mean the movie is presented in the dreaded pan and scan; it's the original aspect ratio of films of this era (well, it was 1.37:1 to be precise). The DVD transfer suffers from wear on the original print, but nothing out of the ordinary for a film from the '40s. There are occasional scratches and grainy patches, and one instance of a complete loss of picture for a couple of seconds. But contrast is good and the movie mercifully wasn't subjected to colorization. The mono audio is as good as can be expected, with clear dialogue.
The extras could have been better, but the movie is an interesting curiosity for those craving the latest Hitchcock releases on DVD. But anyone in the mood for madcap should look elsewhere on Carole Lombard's resume.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Making-of Featurette "Mr. Hitchcock Meets the Smiths"
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