The Awful Truth
Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy (Irene Dunn) are getting a divorce. All they need is the final decree and they can move on and marry other people. And if you believe that…
This is one of those rich-people’s-problems movies that were so essential during the Great Depression. They may be dressed in gowns and top hats, but they squabble and love and break up just like the rest of us. Except with better dialogue.
The story begins with the assumption that both Grant and Dunn are having affairs. Each suspects the other is up to something, which leads to hurt feelings and brilliant lines like “You’ve come home and caught me in a truth.”
Another stellar line: “The road to Reno is paved with suspicions.” (For all you kids out there, people – usually wives – used to go to Reno for six weeks to establish residency for a divorce. There was a whole industry of dude ranches for divorcing women. Don’t believe me? Watch The Women. Even if you do believe me, watch The Women, it’s amazing. But I digress…)
So they split, with Dunn seeing a new guy (Ralph Bellamy) and Grant pausing for a brief a dalliance with a showgirl on his way to an engagement to a stuffy heiress (Molly Lamont.) But separated is not divorced, and the awful truth of the title is that Grant and Dunn still love each other. Of course they do! They’re perfect for each other.
Grant and Dunn are so good in this movie. There’s an ease to their performances, and they play off each other gorgeously. Just take a look at the interplay between the two as Grant’s showgirl performs a cheesy nightclub act involving a wind machine blowing her clothes off. The look Dunn gives Grant is priceless, his reaction perfect.
This might be the first film where we see that signature Cary Grant thing where he’s operating on two levels. We see how he’s interacting with the other people in the scene, but we also see what he’s thinking about them. And what he’s generally thinking is “isn’t this amusing?” Why, yes, Cary, it is.
And let’s just take a moment to appreciate Ralph Bellamy, who made a career out of never getting the girl – or at least the lead. He’s always likable and decent. He’s just never Cary Grant.
While I bitterly regret that women rarely have the occasion to wear gloves indoors anymore, it must be a lot easier to get away with hiding an inconvenient lover in your apartment now that men’s hats have gone out of style. Fashion is a double-edged sword.
Speaking of fashion, take a moment to soak in the sequins, the sequins, the sequins on Irene Dunn’s gowns.
Things you’ll have to overlook:
The opening scene’s “what wives don’t know won’t hurt them” attitude of male entitlement to infidelity. Harrumph.
Most Cary Grant delivery of an annoyed line:
“Why don’t you go…on with what you were doing.”
Does Cary Grant not realize that he’ll always go back to his first love? Has he not seen The Philadelphia Story? Or His Girl Friday? Or My Favorite Wife? Really?