27 March 2012

Mr & Mrs Smith (1941)

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
S0tarring: Harold Montgomery, Carole Lombard, Gene Raymond
Earlier, I reviewed one of Alfred Hitchcock's under-rated movies; today, I got my hands on the only full-length comedy he ever directed. (The Trouble with Harry is a dark comedy, unlike this one.) It's a riot simply because one cannot imagine Hitchcock directing anything other than a dignified comedy - subtle, elegant, and restrained - but trust the man who always did the unexpected to bring a screwball comedy to life. 

Unlike A Separation, this film takes a none-too-serious look at a couple who have to separate because of a technicality, and whose egos come in the way of their reconciliation.

David (Harold Montgomery) and Anne Smith (Carole Lombard) née Krausheimer have been married for three years; they are madly in love with each other, though David is exasperated by the 'rules' that Anne deems necessary for a great marriage. One of those 'rules' keeps David hostage at home for three days, because 'neither is allowed to leave their bedroom after a fight' until the fight is made up. 
We learn, post-fight, that the longest they have remained holed up in their bedroom is eight days. Apart from a three-day session earlier, and two six-day sessions. (Everyone, from their household staff to David's partner takes this in their stride.) We learn that Anne had 'forgiven' David for an indiscretion he had committed when he was 20, long before he had even met her. The couple also have another 'rule', one that David, at least, is discomposed by: the monthly question and answer session, which has to be answered 'truthfully' - so the marriage can remain 'fresh' and they can respect each other (according to Anne). And so the question is asked: "If you could do it all over, would you marry me again?" Poor David opens his mouth and puts his foot into it.
As he walks into office, he is greeted by the news that a man is waiting to see him, and will not disclose his business as it is private. David waves him in; the visitor, one Mr Deever (Charles Halton) is not very quick to come to the point. Deever is a town clerk from Beecham County and is here on business. He waffles on about town jurisdictions and legalities, while David is busy looking through all the files that have piled up on his desk during his forced three-day absence. However, he is soon forced to pay attention - the ambiguous jurisdiction means that his wedding to Anne is not legal!
While leaving, Deever notices Anne's portrait and recognises her as their erstwhile neighbour and his sister's friend. So when he finds himself on East 72nd Street, he impulsively decides to drop in and meet Anne. She is with her mother, and they are both delighted to see him.
Until he informs them about the reason for his travelling to New York. Mrs Krausheimer is agitated; what if David decides not to marry her darling daughter? Anne is sure that he will step up to do the right thing, a not-unreasonable view considering David calls her to tell her that he's taking her out to dinner to the very place where they had their first date. Only, the evening doesn't go as planned. She tries to fit into the same suit she wore when he had proposed to her only to discover it doesn't quite fit. "I can't understand anything hanging in the closet shrinking so much," she says.
Anyway, a judicious placement of safety pins takes care of that problem, provided she remembers not to breathe.
Mamma Lucy's is no longer the way they remembered it; it has changed hands, and the neighbourhood is in the dumps. Instead of a lovely, romantic dinner that they had planned to have, they share their table (kept outside by the owner once he's established they are going to order a 65c dinner and not a 45c one) with a cat, who refuses to even taste the soup, leaving David to wonder if it is safe for him to eat either.
Much to Anne's dismay, David does not tell her of Deever's visit to his office, or that their marriage being invalid, he is taking steps to ensure they are married again. She cannot rid herself of the suspicion that he wants his freedom, and wounded, is quick to hide herself behind a mask of indifference. That lasts until they get home and he brings in a bottle of champagne. 
Soon, there is a broken bottle of champagne, and David's clothes (and he) are outside the front door.

David, taken aback at her fury, decides to leave well enough alone, and spends the night at his club. The next day, after work, he hopes she's cooled down to listen to him, only to find be barred from entering his own home; he waits in the lobby only to see her coming home from a date. 
The next day, he stalks her to the store she works in, and informs her employer that she is married. As part of the war effort, employers did not hire married women those days. Anne loses her job, a fact that does not endear David to her.
When he returns to his office, his partner, Jeff (Gene Raymond), consoles him. He will go to Anne and see what he can to do to patch things up. He asks David to drop in at his own house around 9 in the evening; he, Jeff, has been asked to dinner by Anne, and will try to calm her down. David is more than happy to do so. But he reaches there to find that Anne has informed Jeff that she has never been married; and therefore, feels no need to patch things up with David. Besides, Jeff, who has always had a soft spot for her, decides that now, he can ask her out, in all honour.
Will David succeed in wining her back? Is Anne going to forgive him for not proposing again? What about Jeff? He's asked his parents to meet Anne. Will they accept her?

The film is watchable for the performances alone. Robert Montgomery is perfectly cast as the devilish, slightly-put-upon, totally-in-love-with-his-wife-but-not-above-teasing-her David. He says more with his expressions than he does with his dialogues.

Gene Raymond is wonderful as Jeff, the honourable Southern gentleman who harbours a deep crush on Anne. His drunken scene with Anne, as she plies him with liquor to 'kill the germs' is hilarious, especially when he relates the story of a temperance meeting.

The movie, however, totally belongs to Carole Lombard's Anne. She is loving and shrewish and perfectly capable of flinging anything she can get her hands on, at people when she loses her temper. How do you think I got this? asks David, pointing to the scar on his temple. She thinks she needs 'rules' to keep the marriage as fresh as it was during the first heady days following the wedding, and is busy making one rule after another, not realising that her husband is chafing under those very rules.

It is a battle of wills where no one is the loser - even the end where she pretends not to be able to take off the skis, is her way of getting back together with David, with neither of them losing face.

Hollywood lore has it that lead actress Lombard persuaded the director to make this movie; she certainly did her best to liven things up on the sets. It was Lombard who directed the director's cameo scene (he was famous for making cameo appearances in all his movies); she made him give take after take after take.

She also brought in three heifers onto the sets one day, labelled with the names of the three leads, poking fun at Hitchcock, who famously said that actors were like cattle. (Hitchcock later clarified that what he had said was that actors should be treated like cattle.) She did not spare her co-star, Montgomery, who was a die-hard Republican, either. During breaks, she went off to stick re-election stickers for FDR on Montgomery's car.

This is not one of Hitchcock's greatest directorial ventures – The Trouble With Harry is a far better film and Hitchcock had confessed that this script did nothing for him (it shows) – but it's a pleasant hour and a half.


  1. I remember mentioning Mr & Mrs Smith in one of my earliest blog posts - when Greta and bollyviewer were my only readers - and bollyviewer couldn't believe it was a Hitchcock. It's been a while since I saw this, and yes, it IS good, but (like you) I still think The Trouble with Harry wins hands down. That is absolutely superb black comedy. Another good Hitchcock dark comedy is Family Plot, one of his later films - have you seen that?

  2. I didn't have any time to read Madhu's post properly and now you post a review of a Hitchcock film. So many good thigns to read and so little time!
    I will read it on Friday! pukka!

  3. When I first came across Mr & Mrs Smith (I hadn't seen it then), I was surprised too. I mean, a comedy is not something you associate with Hitchcock, no? :)

    Family Plot is a film I watched so long ago I have no clue what it's about. Time for a re-watch, I guess. Sigh. WDGTT? :))

  4. I am so sorry, Harvey. :( Like I said, maybe we need to specify who is going to post what, when.

    I know you will read it later, so I look forward to your comments then. :))

  5. Hitchcock directed this? And I thought I knew all the Hitchcock movies including his British ones. I should see if my local guy has this, or even if a DVD is available. It sounds very interesting, and I love Carole Lombard. :)

  6. Exactly. WDGTT! And I'm currently working on an assignment too, that requires me to do a lot of movie watching - including movies I wouldn't have watched in the normal course of events (the one I watched last night literally put me to sleep - I just waited for the credits to roll at the end of the film, then turned everything off, got into bed, and slept straight for 6 hours).

  7. Ha! I'd love an assignment like that, though from your description, it doesn't sound all that it should be. :))

    This is not part of the seven DVDs you ordered, is it?

    (And by the way, which film was it that put you to sleep? Do tell. I can keep far away from it.)

  8.  WDGTT?  Where did go the time?  What did ...?  Who did ...?  Why did ...?  which day ...?  I am mystified.

  9. WDGTT? - Phrase. Origin: Madhulika Liddle, otherwise known as Madhu or Dustedoff.

    * Used as shorthand for 'Where do I get the time?'

    * Has to be said as plaintively as possible for greatest effect.

    * Used when we write about movies the other wants to watch, but cannot because of the piles and piles of movies already awaiting our individual attention.

    * Meant to induce total guilt in the person (usually each other) we are saying this to (and I know we cannot end a sentence with a preposition, but...).

    (I'm thinking of writing a dictionary with these acronyms and phrases.)

  10.  "(I'm thinking of writing a dictionary with these acronyms and phrases.)"

    Yes, Anu. High time. At least a blog post about this. What with our harveying and wdgtt-ing and whatnot, we'll soon be forgetting what's what. And I do know there are lurkers out there who don't know what ROTFL means. Or even LOL - I remember an old lady who sincerely thought it meant 'lots of love'. :-)

  11.  No, the 7 DVDs I ordered was all stuff I wanted to watch - Azaad was one of them. Will tell more about this 7 DVD chakkar in my next post.

    The movie in question is - yes, I have to admit it - considered a classic: All the President's Men. Frankly, I'm not into politics at all, and this moved so fast, it left me confused as hell. Compounded, of course, by the fact that I'm not well, and that I hadn't wanted to see it, I was made to see it because the editor specifically said so (well, he assumed I had already seen it).

  12. I was thinking of a blogpost. :) Not of ROTFL or the usual Internet acronyms, but words, phrases and acronyms that we use in our own little portion of the blogosphere. And I did have 'doing a harvey' in mind when I said that. :))

  13. Will tell more about this 7 DVD chakkar in my next post.

    Can't wait. :)

    All the President's Men? Wow! That is one of the films that is shown to us as what journalism should be (and too often is not). Apart from that, it's a well-made film with meticulous attention to detail. Give it another try when you're not half dizzy with illness and antibiotics. :))

    (I meant that seriously.)

  14.  O_kay... but only because you say so! ;-)

  15.  Sorry for being one day late. Had an emergency case to deal.
    The storyline sounds so familiar. Where else have I read about this film?

    "During breaks, she went off to stick re-election stickers for FDR on Montgomery's car."
    this endears her to me a lot! Vive la Lombard!

    This film sound sooooooo good. I would love to see it! Soon!

    A wonderful review, Anu! Thank you!

  16. :) Take a (long-ish) break. If you watch it now, your present opinion will not allow you to enjoy it.

  17. I am real glad you and Madhu review these films I now know which films to watch for as I mentioned in Madhu's blog I am a sucker for old  English films, have to check your blog for the other reviews, by the way I found the film on You Tube and will definitely see it.

  18. I missed this set of comments completely! I was suprised too when I realised it was a Hitchcock. He is definitely better at dark comedy than a full out one like this.

  19. Yes, Harvey, do watch when you find time and let me know how you liked it. Carole Lombard is gorgeous; she carries this movie off completely!

  20. Do watch it for Carole Lombard. She is fantastic in the movie. Only, don't go in with too many expectations. It's a pleasant watch, nothing more.


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