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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

TOO MANY HUSBANDS (1940)

Jean Arthur stars in this perfectly watchable domestic comedy as a remarried widow knocked for a loop when her ‘late’ husband turns up alive & well. It’s the old ENOCH ARDEN routine, a Hollywood standard, but told from the wife’s POV with added ScrewBall elements. The actual source material isn’t Tennyson, but Somerset Maugham’s play HOME AND BEAUTY, and even that gets a make-over with hubbies one & two (Fred MacMurray & Melvyn Douglas) now fighting to keep, rather than hand off, the wife.* It’s still a lovely set up, and nicely played, especially by Arthur (delighted by the possibilities), Harry Davenport as her more sensible dad and a very funny Melville Cooper as a confused butler. Joseph Walker photographs Arthur so she sparkles all the way thru to the slightly absurdist ending, but can’t do much to give director Wesley Ruggles the wit & patience for sophisticated comic embarrassment. Instead, the tone is forced whenever possible, with yuck, yuck music cues from Friedrich Hollander outlining everything like a kiddie coloring book.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Credit this as a rare Hollywood pic that doesn't tip its hand over the romantic outcome.

DOUBLE-BILL: The distaff side got an airing in MY FAVORITE WIFE/’40 the very same year. Irene Dunne’s a (gender swapped) Enoch Arden who returns to find Cary Grant, Gail Patrick, Randolph Scott. . . . and the same forced comic tone.

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