The Awful Truth (1937)

Eighty-three years ago today, the film The Awful Truth premiered. You have to see this movie.

Title: The Awful Truth
Directed by: Leo McCarey
Produced by: Leo McCarey
Screenplay by: Viña Delmar, Sidney Buchman (uncredited)
Based on: 1923 play The Awful Truth by Arthur Richman
Starring: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D’Arcy
Music by: Ben Oakland, Milton Drake (lyrics)
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Edited by: Al Clark
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release date: October 21, 1937
Running time: 91 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $600,000 ($10,700,000 in 2019 dollars)
Box office: over $3 million ($53,400,000 in 2019 dollars)

Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) tells his wife he is going on vacation to Florida, but instead spends the week at his sports club in New York City. He returns home to find that his wife, Lucy (Irene Dunne), spent the night in the company of her handsome music teacher, Armand Duvalle (Alexander D’Arcy). Lucy claims his car broke down unexpectedly. Lucy discovers that Jerry did not actually go to Florida. Their mutual suspicion results in divorce proceedings, with Lucy winning custody of their dog. The judge orders the divorce finalized in 90 days.

Lucy moves into an apartment with her Aunt Patsy (Cecil Cunningham). Her neighbor is amiable but rustic Oklahoma oilman Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy), whose mother (Esther Dale) does not approve of Lucy. Jerry subtly ridicules Dan in front of Lucy, which causes Lucy to tie herself more closely to Dan. Jerry begins dating sweet-natured but simple singer Dixie Belle Lee (Joyce Compton), unaware that she performs an embarrassing, sexually suggestive act at a local nightclub.

Convinced that Lucy is still having an affair with Duvalle, Jerry bursts into Duvalle’s apartment only to discover that Lucy is a legitimate vocal student of Duvalle and is giving her first recital. Realizing he may still love Lucy, Jerry undermines Lucy’s character with Mrs. Leeson even as Dan and Lucy agree to marry. When Jerry attempts to reconcile with Lucy afterward, he discovers Duvalle hiding in Lucy’s apartment and they have a fistfight while Dan and his mother apologize for assuming the worst about Lucy. When Jerry chases Armand out the door, Dan breaks off his engagement to Lucy and he and his mother return to Oklahoma.

Some weeks pass, and Jerry begins dating high-profile heiress Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont). Realizing she still loves Jerry, Lucy crashes a party at the Vance mansion the night the divorce decree is to become final. Pretending to be Jerry’s sister, she undermines Jerry’s character, implying that “their” father was working class rather than wealthy. Acting like a slatternly showgirl, she recreates Dixie’s risqué musical number from earlier in the film. The snobbish Vances are appalled.

Jerry attempts to explain away Lucy’s behavior as drunkenness, and says he will drive Lucy home. Lucy repeatedly sabotages the car on the ride to delay their parting. Pulled over by motorcycle police officers, who believe Jerry is drunk, Lucy manages to wreck the car. The police give the couple a lift to Aunt Patsy’s nearby cabin. Although sleeping in different (but adjoining) bedrooms, Jerry and Lucy slowly overcome their pride and a series of comic mishaps in order to admit “the awful truth” that they still love one another. They reconcile at midnight, just before their divorce is to be finalized.

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