The Awful Truth is a 1937 screwball comedy film starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. The plot concerns the machinations of a soon-to-be-divorced couple, played by Dunne and Grant, who go to great lengths to try to ruin each other's romantic escapades. The film was directed by Leo McCarey (who won the Academy Award for Best Director) and was written by ViÃ±a Delmar, with uncredited assistance from Sidney Buchman and McCarey, from the 1922 play by Arthur Richman.
In 1996, The Awful Truth was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, having been deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) returns home from a trip, which he falsely says was to Florida, to find that his wife, Lucy (Irene Dunne), is not at home. When she returns in the company of her handsome music teacher, Armand Duvalle (Alexander D'Arcy), Jerry learns that Lucy spent the night in the country with Armand, after his car, they claim, broke down unexpectedly. Lucy then discovers that Jerry did not actually go to Florida, though he went so far as to get an artificial tan and write multiple fake letters home to convince her that he did. Mutual suspicions result in divorce.
During the divorce proceedings, Lucy moves into an apartment with her Aunt Patsy (Cecil Cunningham) and becomes engaged to a neighbor, Oklahoma native Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy). However, Leeson's mother (Esther Dale) does not approve of her. Eventually, Lucy realizes that she still loves Jerry and decides to break off the engagement. However, before she can inform Dan, Armand shows up at her apartment to discuss Jerry's earlier interruption of Lucy's singing recital. When Jerry knocks on the door, Armand decides it would be prudent to hide in the bedroom. Jerry wants to reconcile, much to Lucy's delight, but then Dan and his mother make an appearance. Wanting to avoid complications, Jerry slips into Lucy's bedroom, too. A fight erupts when he finds Armand already there. When Jerry chases Armand out of the apartment in front of the Leesons, Dan and his mother stalk out.
Afterwards, Jerry is seen around town with heiress Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont). To break up this relationship, on the night before the final divorce decree, Lucy crashes a party at the Vance mansion, pretending to be Jerry's sister. She acts like a showgirl (recreating a risquÃ© musical number she had seen performed by one of Jerry's girlfriends) and lets on that Jerry's father ("their" father) had been a gardener at Princeton University, not a student athlete as Jerry had claimed. Realizing that his chances with Barbara have been effectively sabotaged, Jerry drives Lucy away in her car.
Motorcycle policemen stop them on the road, and Lucy, plotting to spend more time with Jerry, wrecks the car. The couple get a lift to her aunt's cabin from the policemen. Once there, Jerry admits having made a fool of himself and the Warriners are happily reconciled, just before the clock strikes midnight.
- Irene Dunne as Lucy Warriner
- Cary Grant as Jerry Warriner
- Ralph Bellamy as Dan Leeson
- Alexander D'Arcy as Armand Duvalle
- Cecil Cunningham as Aunt Patsy
- Molly Lamont as Barbara Vance
- Esther Dale as Mrs. Leeson
- Joyce Compton as Dixie Belle Lee
- Robert Allen as Frank Randall
- Robert Warwick as Mr. Vance
- Mary Forbes as Mrs. Vance
- Skippy (a.k.a. Asta) as Mr. Smith, the dog (uncredited)
The Awful Truth was in production from June 21 through August 17, 1937. Grant fought hard to get out of the film during its shooting, since McCarey seemed to be improvising as he went along, and Grant even wanted to switch roles with co-star Ralph Bellamy. Although this initially led to hard feelings, it didn't prevent other McCarey-Grant collaborationsâ"My Favorite Wife (1940), Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), and An Affair to Remember (1957)â"from being made later.
The Awful Truth marked the first appearance of the uniquely effective light comedy persona used by Cary Grant in almost all his subsequent films, catapulting his career to worldwide fame. Writer/director Peter Bogdanovich has noted that after this movie, when it came to light comedy, "there was Cary Grant and everyone else was an also-ran." McCarey is largely credited with concocting this persona, and the two men even shared an eerie physical resemblance along with a similarity in their names.
The film is one of a series of what the philosopher Stanley Cavell calls "comedies of remarriage", where couples who have once been married, or are on the verge of divorce, etc., rediscover that they are in love with each other, and recommit to the idea of marriage. Other examples include The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday, both released in 1940 and both starring Grant, and the NoÃ«l Coward play and film Private Lives. The original template for this kind of comedy is Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Many screwball comedies are based on the audience enjoyment of the humorous dynamic of people who are clearly too smart for their own desires.
Honors and awards
Film Daily named The Awful Truth as one of the 10 Best Films of 1937.
In 2000, the American Film Institute recognized the film as #68 on its list of 100 Years... 100 Laughs, and in 2002 as #77 on the 100 Years... 100 Passions list.
- Best Director: Leo McCarey
- Outstanding Production: Columbia
- Best Actress: Irene Dunne
- Best Supporting Actor: Ralph Bellamy
- Best Writing (Screenplay): ViÃ±a Delmar
There were two previous film versions of Arthur Richman's play on which this film was based, a 1925 silent version from independent Peninsula Studios, San Mateo,California with Warner Baxter in Grant's role, and a little-known early talkie made in 1929 with Henry Daniell and Ina Claire. The play was remade in color, as the 1953 musical Let's Do It Again starring Jane Wyman and Ray Milland.
- The Awful Truth at the Internet Movie Database
- The Awful Truth at the TCM Movie Database
- The Awful Truth at AllMovie
- The Awful Truth at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Reprints of historic reviews, photo gallery at CaryGrant.net
- Review at TVGuide.com