What would you do if you were in this predicament? Your lovely wife was on board a ship that was lost at sea. Seven years pass and during that interim you’ve been working hard at your law career and you’ve met a new woman to be a wife and mother to your children. Seven years is the legal amount of time that has to pass before you can have someone missing declared legally dead, so you go to a judge you know and have your first wife declared legally dead. Now you are free to marry your new lady love, and you do so. On the afternoon of your wedding day, right before you and wife #2 are to leave for your honeymoon, guess what? Wife #1 appears! She’s alive and well, and was stuck on a deserted island for these past seven years! What would you do? This is the plot for a delightful comedy called My Favorite Wife, released in 1940, by RKO Studios.
Cary Grant plays Nick Arden, our hero-lawyer of the movie, and Irene Dunne is Ellen, wife #1. Gail Patrick is Bianca, wife #2, and Randolph Scott portrays Stephen Burkett, a handsome man who also survived the same shipwreck as Ellen, and was on the deserted island with her. A fact that Ellen humorously tries to keep Nick from finding out about.
Nick has a major problem on his hands; wife #1 isn’t dead, so legally they are still married, yet he has just married a second wife, who has no idea that Ellen has resurfaced. He has to find a way to break the news gently to Bianca, who is puzzled as to why they haven’t left for their honeymoon yet, so she calls in a psychiatrist, Dr. Kohlmar, to come out to Nick’s house and try to talk with him about his reluctance to get on with the honeymoon!
Ellen, meanwhile, doesn’t want Nick to know about Stephen, her island buddy, so she recruits a mild-mannered, shy shoe salesman to pretend to be Stephen so Nick won’t feel jealous. However, an insurance adjustor contacts Nick and tells him that there is a rumor going around town that Ellen wasn’t alone on that deserted island and that she and her island buddy called each other, “Adam and Eve”. Nick decides to track down this island buddy and discovers for himself that Stephen Burkett is strong, athletic, and quite handsome! Nick, while dealing with Bianca and Dr. Kohlmar, has a new problem crop up when the police arrive at his home to arrest him for bigamy!
This film is what is termed a “Screwball Comedy” as the situations that the characters find themselves in are so funny and utterly unbelievable. The film was directed by Garson Kanin, produced by Leo McCarey, and written by Leo McCarey, Samuel Spewack and Bella Spewack. It was loosely based upon a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Enoch Arden”, about a sailor lost at sea, who survives on a deserted island for seven years, only to be rescued, returns home to find his wife remarried to his best childhood friend, and with a new child by the new husband. The poem has a sad, yet noble ending. Fortunately for us the movie has a better ending; the entire movie is a delightful romp of comedy and romance. It did earn a big box office profit for RKO, and it was nominated for 3 Academy Awards: Best Story, Best Musical Score, and Best Art Direction.
Cary Grant displays his comedic timing to perfection in this film, trying to keep all the plates spinning, so to speak, before they all come crashing down. Irene Dunne is great as Ellen, trying to convince her husband that she still loves him, despite being stuck on a deserted island with the very handsome Stephen. The supporting players all do really well with their parts, portraying their characters with sincerity, and believability.
The film was such a hit, that in 1962 Twentieth Century Fox began filming a remake, titled Something’s Got to Give, with Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, and Cyd Charisse reprising the roles. Monroe was eventually fired for not showing up to film her scenes, Martin quit when the studio attempted to refill Monroe’s part, and the project was shelved. After Monroe’s death, the studio recast the movie with Doris Day, James Garner, and Polly Bergen and retitled it Move Over, Darling, releasing it in 1963. It is a funny movie too, in color,with songs by Doris Day but for my taste, I prefer the original with Cary and Irene.
So pop up a big batch of popcorn, grab a soda and a comfy spot to sit. My Favorite Wife is available for sale at Amazon, it will be shown on Turner Classic Movies on February 12th, and it is available to rent from Netflix.