Saturday, April 19, 2014

OUR WIFE (1941)

On a cruise ship we meet a scientist (Ruth Hussey) traveling with her father (Charles Coburn) and brother (John Hubbard), all in academics; Hubbard complains that Hussey hasn't been having fun because she doesn't have a romantic bone in her body. Enter Melvyn Douglas, a bandleader whose wife has left him. Quite drunk, he tumbles overboard and later annoys Hussey with his late-night trumpet playing. The next day, Douglas goes ashore at Christobel intending to stay there, but Hussey and family see him, again quite drunk, and assuming he needs to get back to the ship, take him with them. When he sobers up and they realize his room is no longer available, they let him stay with them and they all get very chummy, to the point where Douglas invites the family to stay at his house on Long Island for the summer. They do, and he stays as well, sober and in the process of writing a serious concerto mixing jazz and classical (didn’t Gershwin get there first?). At the concert premiere of Douglas' piece, Hussey runs into Douglas’s wife (Ellen Drew) who is having second thoughts about leaving him, especially when she sees that Douglas and Hussey are hitting it off. When Drew visits Douglas at home and falls down the stairs, she is bedbound for an indeterminate amount of time, and a battle of wills between Drew and Hussey—who is convinced that Drew is faking her injury—begins.

This is a mild romantic comedy which draws on some of the trappings of the screwball genre (meeting cute, divorce proceedings, zany schemes) without ever quite working up the energy needed to go full screwball. Hussey and Hubbard are likeable and Drew makes a good foil for Hussey. Coburn is fine though underused, but Douglas (pictured above with Hussey) is the weak link: he's not a very convincing drunk and he seems too bland to be fought over. Much of the dialogue is snappy but Douglas just doesn't have the fizz to carry his weight (that sounds paradoxical but you know what I mean). Lloyd Bridges has a tiny early role as a taxi driver. The title is a bit strange; I guess Drew is Hussey and Douglas' wife, though "Our Husband" would seem to be more appropriate. [TCM]

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