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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Awful Truth: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Awful Truth: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // April 17, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted April 6, 2018 | E-mail the Author

One of the biggest screwball comedies of its era -- and offering the first appearance of Cary Grant as "Cary Grant" -- Leo McCarey's free-wheeling The Awful Truth (1937) scored well with critics and audiences alike. Earning six Academy Award nominations including a Best Director win for McCarey (who famously said that he'd gotten it for "the wrong film", as he directed the equally impressive Make Way for Tomorrow earlier that year), The Awful Truth remains hugely entertaining during its breezy 91-minute lifespan.

Our madcap adventure concerns a crumbling marriage between Lucy and Jerry Warriner (Irene Dunne and Cary Grant): she's been on the road with suave vocal coach Armand Duvalle (Alexander D'Arcy)...and he's been "on vacation in Florida" for a week, but actually in California. Both suspect infidelity from their partners -- and before long, they're fighting for custody over their faithful pooch (Skippy, The Thin Man) during divorce proceedings, which will be finalized in 30 days. Naturally, the Warriners are back on the prowl immediately: Lucy cozies up to rich Oklahoman Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy), while Jerry tries his luck with hopeful singer Dixie Belle Lee (Joyce Compton) and wealthy heiress Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont) -- but as the clock ticks away, their brief flings only remind them of what they've lost.

The core story is based on a 1922 play by Arthur Richman (which was already adapted twice for the screen in 1925 and 1929 -- endless remakes are not a new invention, folks) but screenwriter Vina Delmar, who collaborated with McCarey on Make Way for Tomorrow, gave it a fresh update while the director tightly tweaked the dialogue with uncredited contributions and Sidney Buchman and others. To complicate matters even more, it's been said that several lines were improvised by Grant, Dunne, and the supporting cast, while entire sequences were conceived or altered right before shooting. This gives The Awful Truth a truly unpredictable, collaborative, and spontaneous vibe; combined with Grant's brand-new persona and Dunne's formidable chemistry, McCarey's production truly captures lighting in a bottle. It also yields a great amount of replay value -- many of these sight gags and one-liners will never get old.

The Awful Truth has aged well and can be seen as a career relaunch for at least McCarey and Grant: the director had just fallen out with Paramount over the undeserved failure of Make Way for Tomorrow, while Grant finally registered a direct hit with audiences after more than two dozen big-screen appearances (and would obviously go on to even greater success in the decades to come). It's therefore both an important film and a truly enjoyable one, even more than 80 years after its original release, and still capable of generating a lot of chuckles and a few good belly laughs. Criterion's new Blu-ray offers a solid amount of support for the film, including a brand new 4K-sourced A/V restoration and a handful of informative bonus features, all of which offer substantial improvements over Columbia/Tri-Star's 2003 DVD.

Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, this brand new 1080p transfer of The Awful Truth was created from Sony's recent 4K restoration of a duplicate nitrate negative and a print owned by UCLA; its original negative was lost, but these separate sources make an outstanding (and relatively seamless) substitute. Image detail, texture, and stability are all very much improved over Columbia/Tri-Star's disappointing 2003 DVD, as this Blu-ray features better contrast levels and an incredibly stable picture. As expected, film grain is appropriately coarse and thick, but never intrusive -- just think how ridiculous the image would look if excessive noise reduction was applied, and just be happy that it wasn't. Bottom line: the end result of this new restoration is clean, crisp, and likely as good as The Awful Truth will get on home video unless a true 4K version is released in the future. Die-hard fans and newcomers will be pleased.

DISCLAIMER: The images on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.

As usual, Criterion plays it straight with a lossless PCM track that preserves the film's original mono mix; like the video presentation, a few forgivable flaws remain (very mild hiss during a few scenes, a somewhat thin high end, and a few slight volume fluctuations during the "dinner and dancing" scene) but it's mostly great news here. Dialogue is typically crisp and clear throughout, with well-balanced music cues that rarely fight for attention. Optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature only.

As usual, Criterion's interface is smooth, clean, and easy to navigate. This one-disc release is locked for Region A players; it's packaged in their typical "stocky" keepcase with very stylish black-and-white artwork. The included Booklet features tech specs, promotional stills, and an essay by critic Molly Haskell.

Not much, but what's here is of good quality. First up are a pair of Interviews: the first is an archival piece with star Irene Dunne from 1978 (7 minutes, with film clips), where the actress speaks with scholar James Harvey about her experiences on the film. The second is a recent chat with critic Gary Giddins (24 minutes) that covers much broader topics including McCarey's career and directing style, The Awful Truth's themes and key elements, the comedy genre before and after World War II, and much more.

On a similar note is a brand new Video Essay by David Cairns (entitled "Tell Me Lies About Cary Grant", 16 minutes), in which the critic talks about Grant's carefully-packaged image and his overall career including, of course, his work on the film itself. Last but not least is a slightly abridged Lux Radio Theatre Adaptation of The Awful Truth with Grant and Claudette Colbert in the lead roles (60 minutes, audio only). The only disappointing omission, aside from an audio commentary, is the film's Theatrical Trailer (although to the best of my knowledge, it's nothing more than two short clips stitched together).

A true gem and early career highlight for both of its lead actors, Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth stands tall as one of the best examples of screwball comedy done exactly right. Cary Grant and Irene Dunn keep the pace light and airy despite some of its rather dark subject matter, aided by strong direction and a terrific script written by Vina Delmar (with contributions by an uncredited Sidney Buchman, McCarey, and others) the same year as Make Way for Tomorrow. It holds up perfectly more than 80 years later -- still capable of generating chuckles and a few good belly laughs, and easily accessible for new fans of the genre as well. Criterion's Blu-ray is up to their usually high standards: perhaps a bit lacking in the extras department, but this is still a head-and-shoulders improvement over Columbia/Tri-Star's lackluster 2003 DVD. Die-hard fans and newcomers alike should pick it up immediately. Very Highly Recommended!

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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