Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and other sources, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
Claudette Colbert grins and simpers throughout Guest Wife, a bubbly 1945 comedy in which she plays a woman who gets into a heap of trouble pretending to be her husband's best friend's wife (got that?). The Blu Ray edition is another welcome reissue of an overlooked vintage film from the folks at Olive Films. Colbert and Don Ameche, who appeared together in the Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett classic Midnight six years earlier, add some sparkle to a story that goes beyond implausible into total Idiot Plot territory (more on that later).
Guest Wife opens in the Ohio home of Colbert's Mary Price and her bank executive husband, Christopher (Dick Foran), as the two prepare for a second attempt at a honeymoon in New York City. Just as they're packed up and ready to go, they get a telegram informing of the impending arrival of Joe Parker (Ameche), Christopher's longtime buddy. Coming in off a long engagement in the Far East reporting as a foreign correspondent, Joe arrives with a conundrum. He's been lying to his boss about being a married man (to stay abroad longer), and he used Mary's photo for his made-up missus. To save his career, he makes a strong appeal to Christopher to "borrow" Mary during their stay in the city, just to keep the old boss man happy. While Mary is mortified, Christopher finds it a huge laugh and agrees to the charade - with no inkling of the snowball effect the plan will eventually take. For starters, Christopher ends up getting separated from Mary and Joe at the train station. The "couple" arrive to find that Joe's boss, Arthur Worth (Charles Dingle), has arranged for Joe to receive an important award with Mary at his side. After press and photographers cover every detail of the happy couple's union, the ruse reaches Ohio and the panicked execs at Christopher's bank. By the time Joe and Mary are forced to have a shared hotel suite, Christopher has caught up with them. Seems like an impossible conundrum to get out of, yet Mary cunningly devises a possible way out (without jeopardizing Joe's job) by pulling a double-charade on Jim, making him believe that she's fallen in love.
In a lot of ways, Guest Wife stands tall as an archetype of fun 1940s romantic comedy. Director Sam Wood guided Colbert, Ameche and Foran into appealing performances that are perfectly in tune with the escapist source material. The film is handsomely produced, especially when it comes to the cinematography and the delightful score (which received the movie's sole Academy Award nomination). Unfortunately, it's also a prime example of Idiot Plot, defined by Roger Ebert as "any plot containing problems that would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots." I dare you - just watch a few scenes of this and try not to yell at the screen, "Just tell the truth, you idiot!" The script contrives towards getting its characters in as many dumb, eye-rolling situations as possible - Mary dropping the charade while on the phone with her husband, within earshot of Joe's boss (idiot!), Joe's boss deciding to stay plopped inside Mary's hotel suite after he finds Christopher there (idiot!), etc. Guest Wife wrings a lot of mileage out of Mary and Joe's "naughty" circumstances, which makes it more dated than more thoughtfully made Colbert vehicles of yore. It's a long way down from Midnight and The Palm Beach Story to here.
If there's one consolation for this overbaked thing, it's Don Ameche. For those who picture Ameche as the handsome, bland lead in a number of of Fox musicals and dramas (or that Trading Places codger), the actor's expertly timed befuddlement as Joe Parker comes as a pleasant surprise.
The Blu Ray:
The 4:3 image is sharp and well-balanced, although the source print used here is slightly more degraded than what has been seen on other recent Olive reissues. Shimmering grain and light smatterings of dust and scratches are a constant, although it intrudes on the viewing experience just a few times. One particular nightclub scene opens with a flurry of white scratches all over the screen, only to settle into the usual amount of background blemish.
The film's original mono soundtrack - pleasant, somewhat worn, unobtrusive - is the only audio option on the disc. As with Olive's other products, no subtitles are included.
It's no Midnight, that's fer sure - Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche once again get themselves in a pickle with the 1945 comedy Guest Wife, a lightweight effort that trades sophistication for outright silliness. Fans of logic-defying screwball comedy will find Olvie's spartan Blu Ray a pleasant diversion. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.