Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 1940. Columbia Pictures. Screenplay by Claude Binyon, based on the play by W. Somerset Maugham. Cinematography by Joseph Walker. Produced by Wesley Ruggles. Music by Friedrich Hollaender. Production Design by Lionel Banks. Costume Design by Irene. Film Editing by William A. Lyon, Otto Meyer.
In a reversal of the same year’s My Favourite Wife, which was shooting at the same time as this hilarious screwball comedy, Jean Arthur is married to Melvyn Douglas, her second husband after her first (Fred MacMurray), drowned in a boating accident. MacMurray’s body was never found but there was enough evidence to believe that he was deceased, so imagine the couple’s horror when he shows up a year after he went missing and announces that he lived on an uncharted island before finally being rescued and brought home to reunite with his loving wife and his best friend. When he finds out that they’ve been hitched for six months, the two men demand that Arthur make a choice between them and iron out this accidental bigamy.
In a project that had to go many rounds with the censors before being approved, Arthur has a deliciously good time making it very clear to the audience, with no verbal dialogue to support her, that the idea of having two men at once is very pleasing to her, but once the boys start indulging themselves in immature contests to prove which of them is a better mate, she tries to force herself to choose between them. She drags her heels a bit too long, however, which results in both husbands running out and threatening to make her go without either.
The witty situation has the makings of an Ernst Lubitsch comedy, but without the likes of Noel Coward writing the script, the possibilities aren’t all explored in this rather stagebound adaptation of the play Home and Beauty by W. Somerset Maugham. Too much of the film spends its time in second gear, it feels like the situation is being milked for all its worth and the conclusion delayed for as long as possible (in reality they filmed two endings and left it up to preview audiences to decide the ultimate result), but don’t think its meanderings aren’t a good time.
Arthur sparkles with sexual confidence and her being at the centre of this love triangle is fully justified; the two men accompanying her spar with such potent charm that her deliciously dirty thoughts are shared by the viewer, both men have a sexual charge despite the fact that they are seen fully dressed in tuxes throughout.
Academy Award Nomination: Best Sound Recording