Monday, 19 October 2009

Too Many Husbands (1940)

One of the great pleasures of the London Film Festival is their 'Treasures from the Archives' section which generally features either little-seen or recently-restored films (or both). There is no reason why this 'screwball' comedy from Columbia Studios should have fallen into obscurity -- it is one I have heard of but certainly had never seen previously -- but it loitered firmly in the attic. It was apparently rediscovered in the studio's vaults whilst re-issuing their wonderful pre-code talkies and the restorers have given us a sparkling black-and-white beauty.

Similar in theme to Cary Grant's "My Favorite Wife" (later remade as "Something's Got to Give"), where a newly-wed groom discovers on his wedding day that his first wife -- long thought dead -- has re-appeared from the desert island where she was marooned, this film switches the genders. Jean Arthur has been married for six months to Melvyn Douglas, waiting only six months (!) after her first husband, Fred MacMurray, was lost at sea. He was so thoughtful and comforting, you know. Whereas the husband in the first scenario is in a mild panic with his impossible circumstances, Arthur, a fine comedienne, positively revels in the joy of having two attentive men and dithers helplessly at trying to choose one of them, much to the disgust of her father, the ever-amusing Harry Davenport. Douglas and MacMurray were both equally adept comic players and their rivalry for their joint wife sparkles. Even after the threat of bigamy procedings and a firm ruling from a judge, the implications of the final scene, set amusingly on a frantic dance floor, is that the current menage a trois might just well continue.

Directed by Wesley Ruggles from a play by W. Somerset Maugham (him again!), the costume design and photography are impeccable. Maybe it would have been no great loss if this movie continued to languish in the vaults, but how lucky we are that it has found the light of day.
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