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Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Warner DVD
1941 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 95 min. / Street Date August 7, 2004 / 19.97
Starring Carole Lombard, Robert Montgomery, Gene Raymond, Jack Carson
Cinematography Harry Stradling
Art Direction Van Nest Polglase
Film Editor William Hamilton
Original Music Edward Ward
Written by Norman Krasna from his story
Produced by Harry E. Edington
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Traditional Alfred Hitchcock fans generally have little use for Mr & Mrs. Smith. It's a screwball comedy and not a thriller or romantic suspense story. It's one of the better of the screwball genre, building its laughs on the thinnest of premises and keeping its comedy down at an intimate and affectionate level. It is said to have been made as a gift to its leading lady, the adored Carole Lombard, but Robert Montgomery is also amazingly good in a role that requires him to act confused and make cute faces ... in other words, it's a proto- TV sitcom, ten years before the fact. If only sitcoms were as good as this.


A court clerk (Charles Halton) from a small Idaho town arrives in New York and informs a husband and wife, separately, that due to confusion as to what state a county was in, their marriage is not legal. The Smiths have an idyllic marriage, but when the wife finds out that she's Ann Krausheimer and not Ann Smith, she (Carole Lombard) becomes obsessed with the fact that her husband David (Robert Montgomery) may prefer the bachelor life after all. David foolishly wants to pretend that they're just singles out for a romp before re-tying the knot, a decision he quickly regrets. As soon as the furious Ann declares her independence, his own law partner moves in to be beau #2.

Most screwball comedies involve farfetched premises involving things like wild mistaken identities to pet panthers on the loose. In My Man Godfrey, one of the earliest and best, Carole Lombard wins a bum in a scavenger hunt for daffy millionaires. Then she cemented her title as the queen of screwball with Nothing Sacred, where a beautiful blonde dying of a mysterious disease has a "madcap Manhattan weekend."

Mr & Mrs. Smith shows the working out of a single funny marital mishap, without a single spy chase or murder added to the recipe. An amusing man informs David Smith that he's technically single. David's amused. His six years of marriage have been an unending honeymoon, a rarity that even his office staff have a hard time understanding. But the idea of dating Ann again as a pair of singles is too attractive.

But Ann knows too, and spends the entire evening waiting for her husband to bring up the subject. His idea of romance is to return to the place where they first dated, a restaurant that's now a rundown greasy spoon (great jokes involving a cat, there). The atmosphere of 'meeting again' is hard to recapture.

When Ann goes ballistic, believing that David had no notion of telling her about the mix-up, Mr & Mrs. Smith begins a series of comic scenes that clearly represent Alfred Hitchcock's idea of sophisticated humor. Cars don't crash and riots aren't started, and I can imagine fans primed for something in the vein of Preston Sturges might wonder where the Funny went. The pace isn't particularly fast, but all the jokes are in character. More time is spent on tiny little details than huge reactions. We see Lombard shave David before and after the breakup, a telling measure of his domesticity. The two measly dollars handed back to them in return for the marriage license might be this film's "Maguffin," but looking for thematic Hitchcock correlatives is for the most part going to be an empty exercise.

The obvious joke is how quickly the serene peace of marital accord can shatter into all-out warfare. This must have tickled Hitchcock to no end, and he makes the feeling last for over an hour. Sleeping at his club (all well-heeled husbands in New York comedies seem to have a swanky club as a fallback address), David debates the injustice of fickle wives with Jack Carson, who sets him up on a date. David hopes to make Ann jealous enough to come back to her senses, but of course it all backfires. The best laughs are the most simple, as when David pretends to be sweet-talking the woman next to him, a stranger, to get Ann's goat.

Mr & Mrs. Smith really shapes up as a TV sitcom in miniature, only with more consistent laughs. As pointed out in the docu, Lucille Ball thought Carole Lombard was the world's most attractive and talented comedienne, and tried to model I Love Lucy around her to some degree. Ball has her own style and the TV show was overly broad compared to Lombard's vehicles, but the influence is easy to spot. More important than making the audience laugh is to make them like the characters, and Montgomery and Lombard are lovable in the extreme.

There are weaknesses. Romantic buttinsky Gene Raymond makes a consistently affable third corner for the triangle, but hasn't very much personality. Saddled with a Southern accent and flawless manners, he's a wet mop of from the Ralph Bellamy - His Girl Friday school but is never a serious contender for Carole's hand and thus doesn't generate much tension.

And Mr & Mrs. Smith does slow up a bit in the home stretch. After noodling its way through a series of cute and unpredictable episodes, it "heads for the ski lodge" with a last minute change of scenery familiar in everything from The Awful Truth to Pillow Talk (well, a country house). Gene Raymond becomes almost irrelevant as fondness brings the two marital combatants back together. Gags involving skis start to seem forced, and the picture stops before it ruins a good thing. But Mr & Mrs. Smith is still a pleasant chuckle from one end to the other.

Warner DVD's disc of Mr & Mrs. Smith looks fine. The source material of this RKO release is in great shape. The doc Mr Hitchcock Meets The Smiths points up all the usual facts about the movie - the authoritative Peter Bogdanovich seems pretty redundant here - but doesn't touch on what Hitchcock was up to in his first years in Hollywood. Was he seriously searching different genres to prove that he could direct anything, or was he looking for a new path? Or was his contract-holder David O. Selznick at the career controls? With the exception of The Trouble With Harry, which every five years seems to alternate between funny and un-funny, Hitchcock never made anything so droll and intimate as this.

There's also a theatrical trailer.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Mr. & Mrs. Smith rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: docu, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 8, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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