Not Awful at All
Do you want to know what the awful truth is; "The Awful Truth" only works because of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. That may sound harsh because "The Awful Truth" is a much loved screwball comedy which is directed by Leo McCarey and also features the ever reliable Ralph Bellamy. But this movie more than any other relies on the comic talents of Grant and Dunne to sell it as unlike other screwball comedies it is extremely slim on plot and in truth with a plot element about the custody of a dog called Mr. Smith is even more daft than usual.
When Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant - The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss) returns home supposedly from spending a few weeks in Florida he is unsettled by the fact his wife Lucy (Irene Dunne - Never a Dull Moment) is not at home. He's even more unsettled when she shows up with a man, her music teacher, and says their car broke down and had to spend the night in an inn. But Lucy is equally as suspicious as she sees the fruit basket Jerry says is from Florida is obviously not and before hey know it their suspicions are leading to the divorce court. But with 60 days left to their divorce is finalised Jerry finds himself trying to sabotage the blossoming relationship which is forming between Lucy and wealthy bumpkin Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy) whilst Lucy tries to play havoc in Jerry's new relationships with socialite Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont).
So to put this simply "The Awful Truth" works on three things; the daftness of the suspicions which lead to divorce and a battle for custody over a dog, the fact that Jerry and Lucy still really love each other and the various attempts to sabotage each others lives. That is it and compared to other screwball comedies it does make it slim on plot and utterly daft but a lot of fun. Director Leo McCarey keeps things brisk and knowing the talent he has in his stars allows them to sell it rather than trying to use lots of tricks and cheap gags to amuse the audience. Having said that he certainly uses Asta the dog which plays Mr. Smith to great effect to give us moments of further comedy which don't rely solely on Grant and Dunne.
But it is Cary Grant and Irene Dunne who make "The Awful truth" because they are both in their element playing quick talking and comically devious characters. The secret to it is that they make it all seem so easy and so natural as if they are not using a script but firing comical barbs at each other and doing what ever comes to mind to wind each other up. It is simply magic to watch these two great talents sparking off each other in a way that to be honest is missing from modern cinema. It is not just Grant and Dunne who deliver as Ralph Bellamy cast yet again as the other man is as reliable as ever with his country character who seems a little naive to Jerry's amusing digs.
What this all boils down to is that "The Awful truth" is a great example of what screwball comedy is all about, that brisk too and fro of witty barbs and amusing snide comments. But this is one movie which works because Cary Grant and Irene Dunne make it all look so easy and so natural.