“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.
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” 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?
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.”