The art of being Gallic, or bedroomish, in a way, is demonstrated with Celtic ingenuity (the principals are just interlocutory divorced, not actually unwedded) and a technique which seems original, possibly because no one has dared to use it since the talkie revolution, in Leo McCarey's Columbia production "The Awful Truth," at the Music Hall. To be frank, "The Awful Truth" is awfully unimportant, but it is also one of the more laughable screen comedies of 1937, a fairly good vintage year. Its comedy is almost purely physical- like that of the old Avery Hopwood stage farces- with only here and there a lone gag to interrupt the pure poetry of motion, yet its unapologetic return to the fundamentals of comedy seems, we repeat, original and daring.
Its obvious success with a modern audience is also rather disquieting. Just when it began to appear that an excellent case had finally been made out for spoken wit and adultness of viewpoint on the screen, the mercurial Mr. McCarey, who only a few months ago saddened us to the point of tears with his "Make Way for Tomorrow," shocks us with a comedy in which speech is subsidiary, and maturity exists only to be deflated into abject juvenility. Though the film has a certain structural unevenness- some of the scenes having a terrific comic impact, others being a shade self conscious--the final result is a picture liberally strewn with authentic audience laughs which appear to be just as unashamedly abdominal as they were in the days of Fatty Arbuckle.
The story is one that simply disintegrates under analysis. Its funniest scene, that of the dog, "Mr. Smith" (Asta of "The Thin Man") playing hide-and-seek, and repeatedly dragging out the incriminating derby hat from where Irene Dunne has hidden it, is bad on the purely farcical premise that it would really have mattered to Cary Grant, her estranged husband, if he had found its harmless owner in the drawing room, when he arrived. If any jest in dramaturgy is more ancient than the piling up of rival males in a lady's boudoir, it must antedate the Greeks- a fact which doesn't keep it from being pretty funny in "The Awful Truth."
Miss Dunne and Mr. Grant as the couple who get undivorced, and Ralph Bellamy as the rich respectable suitor from Oklahoma have fun with their roles, and the pleasure seems to be shared, on the whole, by the Music Hall audience.