Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Well Dunne: From "Queen of the Weepies" to the Queen of Comedy

Few movie actresses had the critical and box office successes that Irene Dunne had in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Theodora Goes Wild (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), Love Affair (1939),  My Favorite Wife (1940), and Penny Serenade (1941) were all big hits when released and undisputed classics today.

Dunne started her film career in 1930 with the lead role in a film called Leathernecking. The very next year, she had a breakout performance in Cimarron starring opposite the more established Richard Dix. So impressive was Dunne's performance that she received the first of her five Academy Award nominations for Best Actress.

The films that followed, cast Dunne in a series of popular melodramas including Back Street, Thirteen Women, The Secret of Madame Blanche, and Ann Vickers. When she costarred again with Dix in the 1934  production Stingaree, she was the bigger star and received top billing.

During the early to mid-1930s, Dunne was known in the trade as the "queen of the weepies."  This reputation made Dunne apprehensive when offered the role of Theodora Lynn in the screwball comedy Theodora Goes Wild. As the small town girl who writes a scandalous novel, Dunne's comic timing and expressive emotions were a instant hit with critics and the public.

The two comedies she made with Cary Grant: The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife helped establish Dunne as one of the grand dames of movie comedy. On her films with Grant, Dunne remarked, "I think we were a successful team because we enjoyed working together tremendously, and that pleasure must have shown through onto the screen ... I will always remember two compliments he made me. He said I had perfect timing in comedy and that I was the sweetest-smelling actress he ever worked with."

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