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‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith – Warner Archive’ (Blu-ray review)

The old expression says that gentlemen prefer blondes.

It’s a well-known fact that Sir Alfred Hitchcock did.

Long before Tippi Hedren and Grace Kelly, though, in 1940, he let it be known that he wanted to make a movie with screen star Carole Lombard. Reportedly he felt she was wasting her talents doing the screwball comedies she tended to specialize in.

For her part, though, Lombard—Mrs. Clark Gable at the time—was no easily manipulated actress.

She was a tough woman who could handle herself and she sold the notorious control freak Hitch on the idea of directing her in yet another screwball comedy, written by Norman Krasna, who knew a thing or two about such things.

The resulting picture was 1941’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the master director’s only flat-out comedy.

A shame it isn’t any better than it is.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad movie. There are some genuinely funny parts and it goes without saying that visually, it looks fantastic. My main problem with Mr. and Mrs. Smith is just that—Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Both are good looking people but neither are particularly likable characters.

At no point in the picture do I ever really care if they end up together or not.

Actually, they start out together.

Like a number of films before this and plenty of stories since, the plot hinges on the fact that our title couple, already together for several years, has never been legally married. There was a technical problem, easily rectified, but then there wouldn’t be a movie. So, Mr. Smith acts like a jerk about it, which leads to the “former” Mrs. Smith acting like a much bigger jerk for the remainder of the film.

Lombard is easily the best performer in the picture, despite her unlikability. Some of her outbursts remind me now of those of Cybill Shepard’s Maddie Hayes on Moonlighting. She also practically glows onscreen as the wronged woman determined NOT to win back her “ex.”

Robert Montgomery plays that role. Although the star of one of my favorite 1940s films, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, as well as father of one of my favorite ‘60s stars, Elizabeth, I’ve never really been much of a fan of Montgomery himself. Here, his character comes across as an unreasonable, manipulative, stalker for most of the movie. They make a nice-looking couple but I certainly wouldn’t want to know them in real life.

Gene Raymond, a perennial second-tier lead, shows up in that role here as well and steals many of the scene he’s in. Raymond’s dry, softs-spoken delivery as Montgomery’s partner and Lombard’s new suitor is a joy to watch, especially in a very wet scene stuck on a carnival ride.

Another perennial second lead, Jack Carson, doesn’t have much to do here but what he does is funny.

There is some sharp dialogue throughout, with my favorite scene being at a restaurant our leading couple goes to early on in an attempt at recapturing their original courtship. Things have changed, however, and it’s now a cheap pizza place, where they end up eating outside with a big ol’ white cat sleeping on their table, which gives Montgomery some clever and amusing lines indeed.

Sir Alfred’s involvement feels negligible.

I kept thinking if a dead body would turn up, reuniting the couple to solve the murder, it might have been a better picture.

Even Hitch’s trademark cameo is pretty much unnoticeable. I had to look up where it was and go back to watch for it. (Reportedly Lombard directed that bit, with scores of takes!)

You know going in with this type of picture that the couple will get back together, but by the time it happens, and because of the way it happens here, you realize you’d have been perfectly happy—and they probably would’ve been, too, if they hadn’t.

Lombard made only one more picture after this one, To Be or Not To Be, with Jack Benny. Montgomery eventually concentrated on being a producer. Hitch would go on to direct his greatest films in a career that lasted another three decades and more.

The remastered print looks better than it ever has and extras include a featurette, two cartoon shorts, two audio only radio broadcasts, and a trailer.

If you’re a fan of any of those involved, it’s worth seeing, but don’t expect their best work.

 

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