Thursday, May 05, 2011

Sundays with Hitch: Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Time now for the most atypical film Alfred Hitchcock ever directed. There’s plenty of humor in his work, provided you take it dark. (See: Harry, The Trouble with.) But Mr. & Mrs. Smith marks Hitch’s sole foray into screwball comedy.

Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard play a couple given to epic feuds and equally epic reconciliations. They learn separately that, owing to a legal oversight, they are not technically married. Thanks to assorted miscommunications, Lombard decides she’s in no hurry to tie the knot again. Hitchcock doesn’t break a sweat selling screenwriter Norman Krasna’s premise, wisely realizing that you’ll either buy it or you won’t.

There’s not enough of the nimble Jack Carson as the hound sharing Montgomery’s doghouse. Once Montgomery’s law partner Gene Raymond expresses romantic interest in Lombard, we get a lot of Southern-fried hokum, including a casual reference to “white trash,” and a shrill third act. And that goddamn whistling on the soundtrack? I never need to hear that again.

But a comedy, like a thriller, can be judged on the basis of its set pieces, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith features a pair of beauties. The first occurs when Montgomery arranges to meet Lombard at their former favorite restaurant to re-pop the question, only to discover that the old joint isn’t quite the same. The tone is both funny and wistful – maybe the restaurant isn’t all that’s changed – and Montgomery has some great business with the house cat. Even better is a hilarious extended sequence at a nightclub involving a “high class girl” named Gertie and a self-inflicted nosebleed. Factor in an effervescent performance by Carole Lombard, who would prove the most tragic of Hitchcock blondes, and the movie certainly merits a look.