Mr and Mrs Smith (1941) is best remembered as Alfred Hitchcok's only foray into screwball comedy. Sandwiched between Foreign Correspondent and Suspicion in Hitchcock's oeuvre the movie is mostly glossed over by those who are trying to piece together a careful analysis of his devlopment as an auteur. That is somewhat beside the point of this piece of dream factory fluff. It's a quickly-made comedic star vehicle for glamorous Carole Lombard that covers the familiar ground of her earlier hit My Man Godfrey (1936). There is nothing-like authorship in the direction which lacks the Master's usual camera gimmicks and obsessive themes. Hitchock does his cameo, but his own lack of enthusiasm for the material shows a bit. He doesn't go out of his way to imprint his style on it.
This may be Hitch phoning it in, but it still stands up with the era's best in this genre. Screwball had peaked well before 1941 and Mr. and Mrs. Smith is one of the best late offerings. Though not as brilliant as the Grant and Dunne's follow up to The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife, which came out the year before, this follow up to My Man Godfrey is consistently funny throughout and is a more evenly paced film. Where My Favorite Wife runs out of gas by the third act, Mr and Mrs. Smith is still going strong as curtain falls.
As in My Man Godfrey, the principal characters let violent argument stand in for passion. Audiences today frequently comment that the characters in these films are shrill or unlikeable as they throw bits of art deco furnishings at one another. And unlike Godfrey, there is no moral object lesson behind the bluster. No one learns to be a better human being through the proceedings. In fact, just the opposite occurs. The characters unapologetically learn nothing and are reunited simply because they are both such miserable people they can't really live with anyone else. If all this sounds loathsome, it's not. It's actually quite funny and charming. In this sort of role Carol Lombard could do no wrong. She's at once attractive and repulsive in her extremes and Robert Montgomery handles his role deftly as well.
David Smith is a fairly dispicable guy on the surface of things, he drinks too much, ignores his work, and hides the fact that he and his wife are not married simply to indulge the lurid idea that his wife will be like a mistress for a night or two. "Mrs." Smith isn't much better. After throwing her husband out, she lies about her marital status, goes on a date with her new boss and begins courting her "husband's" law partner. When the later refuses to physically defend her honor, she walks out on both saying that they should get a pair of girl guides and go camping together.
Mr and Mrs. Smith is a classic "comedy of remarriage" and pays homage to that genre in slight but telling way at the beginning of the movie. The clerk sent to inform the Smiths that their nuptuals weren't on the up and up repeatedly announces that all marriages since 1936 are invalid. I wonder if it was coincidence that 1936 was the year My Man Godfrey was made and the year in which the word "screwball" came into the lexicon?
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