Sog.: dalla pièce omonima di Arthur Richman. Scen.: Viña Delmar. F.: Joseph Walker. M.: Al Clark. Scgf.: Lionel Banks, Stephen Goosson. Mus.: Ben Oakland, Milton Drake, George Parrish. Int.: Irene Dunne (Lucy Warriner), Cary Grant (Jerry Warriner), Ralph Bellamy (Daniel Leeson), Alexander D’Arcy (Armand Duvalle), Cecil Cunningham (zia Patsy), Molly Lamont (Barbara Vance), Esther Dale (Mrs. Leeson), Joyce Compton (Dixie Belle Lee). Prod.: Leo McCarey per Columbia Pictures Corporation · 35mm. D.: 91’. Bn.
Both freshly fired by Paramount, Leo McCarey and Cary Grant found themselves freelancing in 1937 for Columbia Pictures, a Poverty Row studio that specialized in westerns and crime films but took the occasional plunge on an A picture – such as Columbia’s prestige production for that year, Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon. For studio chief Harry Cohn, The Awful Truth appears to have begun as a sort of A-effort, pairing the two Paramount rejects with Irene Dunne (who had just earned an Oscar nomination for her first comedy, Columbia’s 1936 Theodora Goes Wild) and the studio’s stalwart straight man, Ralph Bellamy, for what would be the third film based on a 1922 Broadway play by Arthur Richman.
McCarey immediately junked the text, and jumped into the project using the improvisatory techniques he had begun to develop in silent comedy. Legend has it that the first scene to be shot was a duet between Dunne, a trained singer, and Bellamy, who assured McCarey that he couldn’t carry a tune in a basket. The result, a spur-of-the-moment assassination of Home on the Range, went directly into the final film, and remains one of the movie’s highlights. Shooting continued without a finalized script, much to the horror of the insecure Grant, who is said to have offered Cohn $5,000 to buy himself out of the project (McCarey raised the offer to $10,000, which Cohn wisely declined).
For all of the film’s ebullient comedy, it remains a fundamentally serious treatment of a central theme in McCarey’s work – that relationships may be born of spontaneous attraction, but must be tested through hardship and reversals before they achieve the sacred status of marriage. For Jerry and Lucy Warriner, the dangerously sophisticated New Yorkers who begin the film on the brink of divorce and end it on their second honeymoon, The Awful Truth is a kind of comic calvary, a road to redemption paved with painful hilarity.