Too Many Husbands (1940) Wesley Ruggles


“She’s been a good little wife.”

“….yes, to the both of us”

Jean Arthur’s talents shine in this light, witty, sophisticated comedy.  In “Too Many Husbands” Jean has, well too many husbands, one too many to be exact. Husband number one, Bill Cardew (Fred MacMurray), is presumed lost at sea. His widow, Vicky (Jean Arthur) marries Bill’s publishing partner, Henry Lowndes (Melvyn Douglas). At the one-year anniversary of Bill’s disappearance, Henry is having Bill’s office cleaned out and his name removed off the firm’s door. Meanwhile, Vicky’s father who is at home answers a phone call, on the other end of the line is Bill announcing that he is alive! Sound familiar? Well, yes since the premise is similar to the Cary Grant, Irene Dunne film, “My Favorite Wife” which was released in May of 1940 two months after “Too Many Husbands” hit the screen. Only in the Garson Kanin directed movie Cary Grant ends up married with two wives.   Too mnay husbands

The grand reunion is needless to say a confusing one especially for our heroine who soon realizes she loves both men. She in fact loves them so much she cannot make up her mind who she wants to stay married too. Both men compete to win Vicky’ heart hoping that she will dump the other, however, it turns out Vicky is enjoying the attention she is receiving and cannot, or will not, make a decision. The two husbands start to rekindle their friendship and conclude they are being played for saps. They decide to teach Vicky a lesson by disappearing. Unfortunately, she calls the police who uncover that our heroine is a bigamist. The case is brought before the court where the presiding, judge rules who Vicky is officially married to. However, it does not end there since the loser refuses to give up his pursuit of his “wife.” Vicky and the two men pretty much ignore the court’s decision and as the films ends, she and her two “husbands” are dancing the night away as a threesome.

Too Many Husbands poster    “Too Many Husbands” is a fun film with three wonderful and charming performances, directed with a light touch by Wesley Ruggles. Jean Arthur, and a witty script, though are the real reasons to watch this film. She is enchanting and simply seems to be having a good time in the role. Melvyn Douglas provides a stylish touch having already whet his feet with sophisticated comedy having just come from filming Lubitsch’s “Ninoctchka.”  Fred MacMurray is the less sophisticated of the two playing Jack Lemmon to Douglas’s Walter Matthau. MacMurray was fortunate enough to have worked with both Arthur and Carole Lombard. The film opened in March 1940 at Radio City Music Hall and surprisingly, at least to me, did not do well at the box office. The script, written by Claude Binyon, was based on a play called “Home and Beauty”, by W. Somerset Maugham. There are also entertaining performances by Henry Davenport as Vicky’s father, Melville Cooper and in small role as a police officer is Edgar Buchanan.

“Too Many Husbands” is a somewhat more suggestive film than “My Favorite Wife” especially the ending where it seems  Vicky will be continuing to have a relationship with both men. There is also an underlying hint of gay references in the dialogue, when the two husbands are forced to share a bedroom. It is surprising how much the filmmakers were able to slip passed the censors. One wonders if they were too busy paying attention to the bigamy plot letting these other subtle insinuations get by?Jean Arthure photo

As previously mentioned, only a couple of months later the better-known “My Favorite Wife” was released. In another touch of irony, both films were remade years later, “Too Many Husbands” was turned into a musical in 1955 called “Three for the Show” with Betty Grable and Jack Lemmon and “My Favorite Wife” in 1963 as “Move Over, Darling.” This last film has a long history of it own, which is well know. Originally, it was to be a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe co-starring Dean Martin called “Something’s Got to Give.”  Monroe was difficult during the shoot and was fired by 20th Century Fox who then signed Lee Remick as her replacement. Dino walked off the film saying, no offence to Remick but he signed to star with Monroe. Fox rehired Monroe but unfortunately her problems ran deep and was soon found dead of an overdose. Production was shut down and the film was never completed. The story was resurrected a couple years later with Doris Day, James Garner and Polly Bergen, and now called “Move Over, Darling.”

“Too Many Husbands” is a pleasant diversion not reaching the level of screwball greats, still it has aged well with Ms. Arthur’s character looking more modern and certainly more liberated than most female characters of the day. The film has recently been released on DVD as part of the “Icons of Screwball Comedy Volume 1.”

15 comments on “Too Many Husbands (1940) Wesley Ruggles

  1. R.D. Finch says:

    John, I think you got it exactly right with your assessment of this movie. It’s a good, but not great, and quite entertaining movie–as you put it, “a pleasant diversion.” For me anything Jean Arthur is in is worth watching, and as you say, she is the high point of the movie. But the rest is also good, and MacMurray seems very relaxed here (and how about that beard he has at the beginning?). And I’m such a nut for screwball comedy in its heyday that even those that fall short of greatness have great appeal for me. That ending sure caught me off-guard. It did seem daring for the time in its implications of a menage a trois, and I couldn’t help thinking of Lubitsch’s “Design for Living,” which of course is pre-code.


  2. John Greco says:

    “For me anything Jean Arthur is in is worth watching”

    R.D. – I agree with this statement more and more with every film I see her in. She is up there with Carole Lombard. It was a pretty surprising ending and it took me a moment to realize what the inference here was and this was 1940 when the code was at it strongest. I am currently writing a review of The Ex-Mrs Bradford which will be posted toward the end of the week.


  3. Tom says:

    Ooooh. I need to see this one.


  4. Sam Juliano says:

    I also often have a hankering for screwball comedy, but I never saw this particular Jean Arthur film, unfortunately. I always loved Arthur in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, and it motivated me to read about her peculiar life. Apparently she didn’t care much for acting, and when she left she never wanted to return, but did for a few brief appearances. She was known as an animal lover, and she trusted them more than she did people. Of course Arthur’s roles in two other Capra films, MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN and YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU are as famous as the one in MR. SMITH.
    As always, wonderful historical perspective and an engaging read< John.


    • John Greco says:

      Sam – I recorded on my DVR four films of Arthur’s the other day, all of which I have never seen. She is a real joy. I knew she quit acting and never really felt comfortable with it. Did not know about her being an animal lover. Being a cat lover myself I see that as a good thing.


  5. Dave says:

    John – Since I’ve been on a comedy kick for films of this era, this is one I’ll need to see.


    • John Greco says:

      Dave – it won’t make you forget the Preston Sturges films you have been watching but it is an enjoyable film and as I have stated before, Jean Arthur is a real treat. The more I see of her, the more I like her.


  6. Judy says:

    John, I haven’t seen this one but do remember seeing and enjoying the Doris Day remake you mention, ‘Move Over Darling’ – I have a strange feeling that the menage a trois implication might have disappeared in that remake! I’ve seen a few with Arthur recently and do like her – yet another one to look out for.


  7. John Greco says:

    Ha! Judy – I can’t imagine Doris Day in a menage a trois! I too saw Move Over, Darling some years ago and it was at best ok. Again, this was some years ago so the film has somewhat faded from my memory. I have become quite fond of Ms. Arthur’s talent and rank her up their with Carole Lombard as a “screwball” queen. BTW, according to IMDB this film was known as “My Two Husbands” in the UK when originally released. Frankly, I don’t understand why the title change in this case. Too Many Husbands is Too Many Husbands whether it’s The Queen’s English or the American idiom.


    • Judy says:

      Hi John, I think this kind of apparently pointless title change is sometimes because there has recently been another film of the same name – just checked my theory over at the imdb and saw there was a British film called ‘Too Many Husbands’ released in 1938, so I wonder if that was the reason? Looks as if it was a different story but just happened to have the same title.


      • John Greco says:

        Thanks Judy, that make sense. Another case of a title change is They Drive By Night, the 1940 American film with Bogart. When it opened in the U.K. It was given the title “The Road to Frisco” since there was a excellent 1938 British film called “They Drive by Night.”


  8. John Greco says:

    Thank you, Tony I appreciate it. Glad you found it interesting. BTW, sorry for the late relpy. Your comment got mixed in with spam.


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