I Love You Again is a return to form for Loy and Powell, akin to their work on The Thin Man and Libeled Lady. It makes sense considering they are reteamed and had struck gold previously with director W.S. Van Dyke (although he also helmed Manhattan Melodrama). The wacky antics of a wealthy man turned gangster are hilarious, even if several sequences seem frivolous and culled from other movies. Loy and Powell’s chemistry is in fine form, and this is the most enjoyable outing this week!
Businessman Larry Wilson (Powell) is accidentally conked on the noggin after rescuing a drowning man. When he wakes up, Wilson believes he’s gangster George Carey. He enlists the help of the man he rescued (Frank McHugh) and the two plan to swindle Wilson’s small town out of money. Unfortunately, upon entering the town, Carey meets Wilson’s wife, Kay (Loy) and discovers that Wilson’s life isn’t coming up roses.
I Love You Again is best described as The Thin Man, if Nick Charles were to become the titled “thin man.” When Wilson becomes Carey, the two men are entirely independent from each other in personality, yet Powell is able to embody two distinct personalities. Combined, there’s only about ten minutes with the actual Wilson, and the rest of the movie is other people telling Carey how Wilson acts. It’s a standard “body swap” movie where other characters mention the strangeness of the new person, and everyone knows Wilson’s past better than him. Carey’s history is just as complete, only it’s given to the audience up-front. The subtle humor comes from Carey’s belief that he, himself, has been transplanted into a new body. He looks at himself in the mirror of the boat, and can’t fathom having a real mustache: “Why, it’s real!” There are plot holes, as there would have to be with a man possessing such a complete alternate history, and the movie injects a fair amount of ambiguity to alert the audience to the belief that maybe Carey really has been playing at being Wilson; predominately the fact that gangster Duke Sheldon (Edmund Lowe) never gives a second thought to Carey. Wouldn’t Carey look different from the last time Duke saw him? Unless Carey is truly Wilson. These questions never bothered me as they would in something like Evelyn Prentice, and I understand it’s the film’s intent, but some acknowledgement would have been nice.
Powell’s confidence and flirtatious attitude is pitch-perfect for the role of a gangster. Carey shies away from being the vicious, gun-toting type of gangster and falls more into the con-man role. His ability to seduce fails to work against his steadfast wife, Kay and their situations generally revolve around Carey’s lack of knowledge on their past. Hell, the first time they meet in the movie he doesn’t know her name. As ‘Doc’ Ryan says, “She wasn’t christened ‘darling’ or ‘dear,’ you know!” The movie isn’t reliant on exposition because all the other characters come up to Carey and reveal everything that’s happened in his past. It’s evident his wife is leaving him because of his slavish devotion to gaining the town’s acclaim and his inability to connect with her (not too far removed from their relationship when he’s Carey); it is his relentless pursuit of business that’s driven a wedge in his marriage (again, would have been easier to swallow if they had done this in Evelyn Prentice).
The plot runs a basic course, with Carey placed in various situations where he must prove he’s Wilson – playing the trumpet, singing the town song – or where he uses his newfound personality to win back Kay. All of this leads to varying amounts of laughs, the heartiest being when he’s forced to take the local Boy Scouts out for the day; it ends up rivaling the fishing sequence in Libeled Lady for my favorite Powell moment. From there the movie has the town discover oil, all before ending happily every after…with a wink at the audience who believe Wilson could still be Carey.
Loy and Powell return to life in I Love You Again. Gone is the enervated atmosphere of Double Wedding, and these two are having the time of their lives. Powell grasps all different types of comedy, and he proves that here with his ability to use clever dialogue or slapstick. One sequence shows him as the master of economy, using the ice in his ice pack to mix a drink. Loy’s character isn’t as hammy as the others, she’s more of the straight man in this venture; she does continue to be the perfect companion for Powell. Interestingly, there’s another twosome that’s equally fun to watch, and it isn’t necessarily Powell/Loy; it’s Powell/McHugh. Frank McHugh was just on the blog last week, playing the dimwitted Humbolt in Gold Diggers of 1935. Here, he plays gangster/fake doctor, ‘Doc’ Ryan. He’s a loveable lug who develops a true friendship with Carey. Powell and McHugh have as much chemistry (albeit of a different nature) and the ability to riff off each other much like Powell and Loy do. The best sequence involves the two men trying to pull one over on the women by laying in bed together; the joke is that both men have committed a break-in and are wearing their regular clothes under the covers. In order to prevent Kay’s mother from discovering this, Ryan tells the cop that the women have to leave, “I only sleep in the top of my pajamas” You also have Kay’s fiancé, Herbert played by Donald Douglas. He’s the ultimate wuss, right down to telling Kay that Carey “didn’t hit me! I ran into a door.” Obviously, Herbert needs to confront his abuser.
I Love You Again is classic Powell and Loy, and not a moment too soon! The script sparkles, the cast dazzles, and despite the hammy story it’s downright adorable!
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