This review is part of the Carole Lombard Blogathon being hosted by Carole and Co.
The name Alfred Hitchcock on the movie screen evokes the notion of suspense or a thriller, even horror; some sort of on the edge of your seat nail biter for sure. Certainly, the name Alfred Hitchcock does not bring to mind the words ‘screwball comedy.’ Therefore, in 1941 when RKO released “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and the credits rolled on to the screen with the words “Directed by Alfred Hitchcock,” many theatergoers may have been surprised by what they were about to see or even confused, then again, they may have been thrilled once they realized they were about to watch a delightful, charming, if not totally successful, battle of the sexes played by two of the finest and most attractive performers for this kind of film.
The plot is kind of farfetched to say the least, David and Ann Smith find out after three years of blissful marital battle they are not married due to a legal snafu. The Smith’s are a sophisticated couple who like to play conjugal mind games, one of which is locking themselves up in their bedroom for days. What goes on in the bedroom for three days? Well, their entire household staff is just as interested to know as we are, one gets the feeling the activities are sexual as well as combative, but it comes to a halt when a messenger from David’s Park Avenue law firm arrives at the apartment with some papers to be signed demanding to be taken to their room. Before David leaves, the couple embrace and reaffirm their promise to never leave the bedroom mad. Still there is tension in the air, especially when Ann asks the all important question, “If you had to do it over again, would you marry me?” David’s response is an honest but problem making, “no.”
Life only gets more complicated when the couple discover their marriage was never official due to some geographical mix up with the license at the time. Ann waits for David to propose, a proposal David is reluctant to put forward. Feisty Ann tosses David out of the house, quickly changing her name from Smith to Krausheimer and Ann begins dating David’s law partner, Jefferson Custer (Gene Raymond).
It is difficult to call this film totally successful because there are some periods of forced humor. The greatest pleasure is just watching two great comedic actors demonstrate their ability to entertain; they are masters of the art. Montgomery’s highlight has to be a scene that takes place in a nightclub one night when Chuck (Jack Carson), a friend of his hooks up the newly “single” David with a date, a floozy named Gertie (Betty Compton), for a night on the town. Ann and Jefferson, inconveniently for David, are also at the club. David, embarrassed to be seen with the low class floozy, spots Ann at a nearby table and makes believe he is with another classier looking woman sitting opposite him. When that doesn’t work, he begins to punch himself in the face hoping to induce a nose bleed so he can plead an early escape. However, Gertie just happens to be an “expert” on stopping nose bleeds and her actions only draw more attention, including Ann’s.
This film represented Lombard’s return to comedy after a series of dramas and she is delightful as always and has some wonderful moments of her own, for example, when she bristles in anger over patronizing remarks made by David (You’re a good kid! he says at one point), and later toward the film’s ending Lake Placid scene when Ann attempts to arouse David’s jealousy, who just happens to be in a cabin next door, by making him think she is having an amorous, wild and crazy night with Jefferson.
Alfred Hitchcock’s films always contained humor, though generally it was not as light and fluffy as it is here. Written by Norman Krasna whose works included “Wife vs. Secretary,” “The Devil and Miss Jones,” “Princess O’Rourke,” “Bachelor Mother” and Sunday in New York,” the film never seems to get a full head of steam going. Fortunately, the two leads are charming and infectious enough to keep us engaged throughout. Hitchcock’s only other detour into comedy was with the much darker, black comedy, “The Trouble with Harry,” released in 1955.
Carole Lombard would undoubtedly have made a great Hitchcockian heroine in a more traditional Hitchcock film. She certainly could carry off the cool detached look of a Hitchcock blonde as exhibited here, and it is enticing to think about her in a more typical Hitchcock work. In the Hitchcock/Truffaut interview book, Sir Alfred discusses how he got involved with this film only as a favor to Lombard who wanted to make a picture with him, and he more or less followed Norman Krasna’s script since he claims he did not understand these kinds of characters. However, in Donald Spoto’s biography of Hitchcock, he writes, “The RKO archives tell a different story.” It’s true he wanted to work with Lombard but Hitchcock was crazy about the story and wanted to do a typical American comedy with typical American characters. (1) Hitchcock adds in the Truffaut interview a story about how early in his career he made the now famous statement about how “actors are cattle.” Lombard was well known for her sense of humor, and Hitchcock talks about how on the first day of filming, Lombard had a small corral built, and in the corral were three young calves. Around the neck of each was a sign with one of the stars names, Carole Lombard, Robert Montgomery and Gene Raymond written on it. Sadly, this was Lombard’s next to last film before she tragically died in a plane crash. We can only imagine if she and Sir Alfred would have ever worked together again and what could have been.
(1) Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius (Donald Spoto) – Spoto also mentions that they tried to secure Cary Grant as Lombard’s co-star. They also went after Fredric March and George Brent before signing Montgomery. Additionally, despite Hitchcock’s statement that he just shot Krasna’s screenplay there are various verbal touches of Hitch in the film including the line, he used for the first time and would use in future films, “This isn’t alcohol…it’s medicine…it kills germs.” Spoto points to the 1958 film “Vertigo” where James Stewart hands Kim Novak, as Judy, a glass of brandy and says. “Drink this straight down, it’s just like medicine.”