Thursday, April 29, 2010

Irene Dunne, in The Awful Truth
approximately 59 minutes and 46 seconds
69.7% of the film




The film

Suspicions lead a married couple to begin divorce proceedings, whereupon they start undermining each other's attempts to find new romance.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

Is the film that good or was I just in the mood for a relaxing screwball comedy? Whatever the answer, The Awful Truth is very entertaining, and fun to watch and quite well written. The Irene Dunne – Cary Grant pairing works perfectly and there really isn’t anything bad about this movie.



Irene Dunne as Lucy Warriner

Comedy is hard to judge. After something dramatic, much too expressive like Luise Rainer’s performance, I get the total opposite: the fun, light, relaxed acting of Irene Dunne… And I’m usually tough on comedy in this category, but when a performance seems so effortless and effective, it gets all my admiration. Irene Dunne glows all throughout The Awful Truth. And not just because of fancy dresses and luxurious sets; what she does is allow the fun and silly to take over the performance.


Irene plays Lucy Warriner, a modern, beautiful 1930s married socialite. When she and her husband both fall under the suspicion of cheating, they decide without thinking on a divorce that really doesn’t bring happiness to any of them. The awful truth is that they still love eachother. Lucy starts dating a well mannered Southern man, but her heart still belongs to Jerry. The comedy comes from wacky episodes involving either the characters or a very smart dog.

As I said, Irene smiles her way through the film and she really is the star of the picture. In many ways, she steals the spotlight from Cary Grant and that’s not easy to do. The scene lightens up every time she’s on screen and she does get some of the best lines. The screenplay helps a lot and offers her the right material for a true comedic performance. Her timing is perfect, the dialogue is carried very well and much in the spirit of the film and genre.


Irene is having so much fun that she seems like she’s drunk sometimes. Her cool joyfulness is contagious and makes the character immediately likeable. It’s also an effortless performance: her way of being/acting is so sweet and charming that the performance has a natural, believable and relatable feeling. Her decision to keep it light is very relevant for the film, but even so: Irene knows when to nuance it a bit.

The Awful Truth doesn’t have dramatic scenes, but it does have one or two emotional ones, when Lucy realizes that she really wants Jerry back and subtly tries to find out if he’d be interested too. A soft, loving look or face expression is all we need from Irene to understand what Lucy is all about, and Irene knows how to do all of that without disturbing the funny mood of the film.

There are two big scenes I see as most relevant for her performance. First, it’s when she’s dragged on the dance floor by Dan, her new fiancĂ©. His dancing technique is embarrassingly creative and Lucy is forced to dance along even though she looks most uncomfortable. I giggle when remembering it. The second one: the big scene towards the end when she pretends to be Jerry’s white trash sister just to embarrass him in front of his girlfriend and her family. The scene has it all: great funny dialogue, a crazy singing moment from Irene and most of all: terrific acting.

When you get such a well written funny role, it should be easy to deliver a decent performance. However, Irene does much more than that. She is naturally charming, has acting experience, comedy timing and gives one of the best screwball comedy performances of the 30s. I liked it too much to ignore it: .

5 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

This is an excellent performance, I mean the film's no Philadelphia Story but it is good and funny and well acted. Four stars seems about right to me.

Cal said...

I can only agree Alex. Dunne has such wonderful comic timing, and though you can see she's always in love with Cary there are moments when you can believe she's tired of his constant flirting and playfulness. They fall in love all over again.

joe burns said...

I haven't seen this yet, but great writeup!

dinasztie said...

For me it's between Dunne and Rainer, but I have a feeling, you're gonna pick Garbo or Stanwyck.

Runs Like A Gay said...

You've made me remember how lovely and commically gifted Irene is.

A superb film - much better than any of their other collaborations - and one that truly epitomises the idea that when you fall in love you with someone you fall for their shortcomings as well as their strengths.