We’ve discussed My Favorite Wife before, and by that I mean the remake that was to be made starring Marilyn Monroe entitled Something’s Gotta Give. Unfortunately, that movie never came to fruition, but there was a remake of this in 1963 with Doris Day (which I’ve never seen). My Favorite Wife is a sweet comedy with a wacky premise perfect for the WWII years!
After losing his wife in a shipwreck seven years ago, Nick Arden (Cary Grant) is ready to marry the beautiful Bianca (Gail Patrick). On the day the two are wed and off on their honeymoon, Ellen Arden (Irene Dunne) returns! She discovers her husband has remarried and her children don’t recognize her, as they were infants when she disappeared. Nick himself is stunned and fights the feelings he still has for his old wife while struggling on how to tell his new one.
The premise is incredibly wacky, but it’s the 1940s and a screwball comedy so it doesn’t get any crazier. The problem lies in just how formulaic and convenient the movie is. Literally, the day after Nick has his wife declared legally dead (waiting seven years) and gets married his wife shows up! Could this woman have the worst timing in human history? I also don’t know how to feel about Ellen, as you discover she left on some type of archeological dig, leaving Nick with two infant children. I know this was a time where women weren’t truly expected to have jobs involving travel; the fact that she leaves two babies makes you lose sympathy for her and feel more for Nick. It’s not just because he’s the put-upon single father who needed to find a woman to mother his children, but because he bared the responsibility for the children and Ellen appears flighty.
Regardless, you can ignore most of that because the two leads are so sweet. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but Cary Grant is one of my favorite actors (enough so that he’s warranted a full week of reviews)! They don’t make dashing, dignified men like him anymore and that clipped accent of his is amazing! Nick is set in his love for Ellen – it’s never wavered in seven years – and him and Dunne have electrifying chemistry. I did feel bad for Bianca, who they try to make a “bad” match for Nick but really she just seems concerned because one minute Nick loves her only to have him do everything he can to get away from her.
I know I harp on this film’s problems but they can’t be ignored, especially in a romantic comedy. In the interest of full disclosure I hate romantic comedies of today, not necessarily of a bygone era…today they’re awful. This movie is not a romantic comedy of today but it’s hard to identify with the characters motivations as they’re all HIGHLY flawed. Despite all that it’s a sweet movie that has inspired numerous imitators but the original with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant is the one to seek out!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.