“I came here with my wife… hum… my bride really. Now my wife, not my bride… my wife… Why should I bore you with details?”
Cary Grant the debonair actor with his gaelic charm and dashing sex appeal was a great asset for the Screwball Comedy genre. In a career that spanned over forty years, Grant starred alongside many of the worlds most renowned actresses, appearing in an array of films that covered almost every facet of life.
During the annals of his tenure in motion pictures, Cary Grant became known for his famous on-screen partnerships with Katharine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman, but while these teamings are the most memorable, his three collaboration duo with Irene Dunne proved to be just as effective.
Following the success of The Awful Truth audiences were craving for another lightweight picture featuring the comedic finesses of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. In 1940 that wish was fulfilled when Grant who had just finished filming the critically acclaimed His Girl Friday signed up to make My Favorite Wife.
At first production was running smoothly. The film was anticipated to be a cinematic highlight, but problems arose when the producer, Leo McCarey got drunk which resulted in him being involved in a fatal car accident that left him fighting for survival. With McCarey’s absence RKO had considered cancelling the project until McCarey recuperated enough to be able to assist Garson Kanin who took over the role of director.
Once production was completed Leo McCarey arranged for a preview of the film but was discontented with what he was witnessing on screen. For a film that was initially intended to be humorous, McCarey thought that the overall production was rather dried down in parts and instead focused on the current perplexing situation that each character was enduring with a more serious approach. McCary later said that getting the picture to be more reputable was a hard task and stated, ” So the cast was dismissed, the writers went home, the director went back to New York and I sat there with the cutter trying to figure out what to do to save the picture. … Then I got the wildest idea I ever had. There was a judge in the opening who was very funny, and he dropped out of the picture, and I decided to bring him back. What we actually did was to tell the judge our story problems in the picture and have him comment on them. And it was truly great. It became the outstanding thing in the picture.”
On it’s release My Favorite Wife was a financial success and became RKO’s biggest hit of 1940, only being surpassed by Kitty Foyle which earned a profit of $505,000. Twenty three years later the film was remade and titled Move Over Darling with Doris Day and James Garner in the lead roles.
In My Favorite Wife, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne play Nick and Ellen Arden, a married couple who are tragically separated for seven years after Ellen is reported dead when her ship is lost which forces her to get stranded on a deserted island.
Fast forward to seven years later, Ellen has been legally declared dead and Nick has just married a young brunette named, Bianca ( Gail Patrick ) and are both elated about spending their honeymoon at an opulent resort where Nick had taken Ellen eleven years earlier, but instead of spending a few glorious days with his new bride, Bianca, Nick is faced with a challenging obstacle when he discovers that Ellen who has been rescued from the island is waiting for him at the hotel and will do everything in her power to win back her husband.
My Favorite Wife is a superbly crafted film that is derived from an intelligent script and brisk dialogue. A lot of this has to do with the creative genius of Garson Kanin, the prolific screenwriter who is best known for his work behind the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn comedies, but in the predecessor Kanin provided a screenplay that was rich in detail and flowing with witticism and the comical banter between the two stars.
The greatest thing about this film is the magnetic chemistry between Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. In My Favorite Wife Cary Grant and Irene Dunne light up the screen with their lively wit and eloquent farcical exchanges that are uttered in almost every sentence.
Even though My Favorite Wife is similar in comparison to it’s remake, the structure of the plot and the mannerisms of the characters are different. Compared to the slapstick elements in Move Over Darling combined with the immature and frivolous approach that Doris Day brings to her role of Ellen, Irene Dunne enters into the picture with a fresh appeal and an air of sophistication that is abounded with her artistic flair for comedy while Cary Grant once again exhibits his impeccable comic timing.
In addition to Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, My Favorite Wife boasts a stellar supporting cast who all help hold the film together. Randolph Scott is exceptional in his portrayal of Stephen Burkett the virile man who secretly occupied the island along with Ellen. Nick at first is incognizant that Ellen may have had company on the island, but once the truth is revealed Nick comes to question Burkett’s motives while also worrying what happened between Burkett and his wife on that island.
My Favorite Wife has all the essential features to make it perfect. It’s light. It’s frothy and it spotlights the charismatic charm of Cary Grant and the Inimitable talents of Irene Dunne.
Alfred Lord Tennyson‘s poem, “Enoch Arden,” about a fisherman presumed lost at sea who returns to find his wife remarried, was the basis of five prior films: Enoch Arden (1914), Die Toten kehren wieder – Enoch Arden (1919), and D.W. Griffith‘s Enoch Arden: Part I (1911), Enoch Arden: Part II (1911), and Enoch Arden (1915). Those films adhered to Tennyson’s poem. But in My Favorite Wife, Something’s Got to Give (1962), and Move Over, Darling (1963), only the basic idea of a spouse who returns is kept, with the spouse presumed lost now being the wife. However, in all of these films, the surname of the couple in question remains “Arden.”
The hotel in the mountains is clearly meant to be the AhWahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. Its kitchen has won prizes and they serve an elaborate Christmas dinner, but it’s expensive and you need to book about a year in advance.
Cary Grant: Born Archibald Alexander Leach on January 18th, 1904 in Bristol, England. Died: November 29th, 1986 in Davenport, Iowa. Aged 82.
Irene Dunne: Irene Marie Dunne on December 20th, 1898 in Louisville, Kentucky. Died: September 4th, 1990 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 91.