Monday, March 22, 2010

The Truth about "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"

There is a belief today that Mr. and Mrs. Smith  (1941) starring Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery and directed by Alfred Hitchcock was a flop. Nothing could be further from the truth, but for some unknown reason, this "untruth" seems to crop up whenever the film is discussed or written about.

For the love of Carole
It is true that Hichtcock directed this film as a favor to Lombard, whom he loved and admired, but he didn't dread the task, nor did he just go through the motions, not caring about the result. The production and texture of the film is very polished. It has the look of a very expensive production, and the cast, including the supporting players, are first-rate, accomplished performers. As Lombard films go, it's not in the same league, perhaps, as Nothing Sacred or My Man Godfrey, but in its day, audiences voted it one of the best films of the year, along with Hitchcock's classics Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent!

Udder hilarity
When Hitchcock moved to America, he rented a house owned by Lombard and the two became fast friends. Ever the prankster, Lombard had fun with Hitchcock and his supposed comments saying "actors are like cattle" by having a corral with three calves in it installed on the set for the first day of shooting. Each calf wore a nametag of one of the three leads: Carole, Robert, and Gene (Raymond). It was important for Lombard to set a congenial and fun atmosphere on her film sets, and this stunt must have been planned to do just that. To keep the jokes going, Lombard insisted on directing Hitchcock during his brief cameo. Not able to resist temptation, Lombard insisted Hitchcock do take after take until his "performance" was to her liking.

Held over at Radio City
Radio City Music Hall Photograph - Beautiful 16"x20" Photographic Print by Carol M. HighsmithWhen Mr.and Mrs. Smith opened at Radio City Music Hall on January 20, 1941, it played to sold-old audiences. In fact the first nine days were booked solid and the film was held over (it was something of a big deal to be held over at the Music Hall, back in the day). The reviews were almost unanamously good with Look magazine saying that "Hitchcock has employed the same strategy that marks his blood-chilling melodramas," utilizing the "same casual approach, the same pell-mell finish, the same corner-of-the eye viewpoint.... The net effect is the same, too: another Alfred Hitchcock hit." The New York World-Telegram said that "Portly Alfred Hitchcock abandons melodrama, but not entertainment, in the frisky, scampish, gleeful comedy called Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Other reviews positively noted that for an Englishman, Hitchcock seems to know exactly how American couples think (New York Herald Tribune). The New York Post compared Hitchcock's first comedy to those of Ernst Lubitsch!

Check it out for yourself
Modern audiences can decide for themselves whether or not Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a classic or even a worthwhile entertainment, but one thing is for certain: Lombard's timeless appeal shines through and Montgomery proves to be one of Hollywood's most adept film comedians.

Rent it from Netflix and see for yourself, then let me know what you think.

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