Shortly after completing a rare drama film entitled They Knew What They Wanted in 1940, Carole Lombard began work on her next screwball, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The director was a newcomer to Hollywood who had already made a name for himself in Britain with his talent for directing suspense films. He was beginning to develop a reputation in the United States as well, and expressed desire to leave his comfort zone and direct a comedy. The director’s name? Alfred Hitchcock.
In light of the newly released biopic about the filming of Psycho, it seems fitting that this installment of the Carole Lombard Filmography Project should focus on Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The sheer versatility of Alfred Hitchcock as a director and producer is often overlooked in the constant praise of his significant and legendary contributions to the horror genre. We forget that Alfred Hitchcock did indeed make movies outside of the genre for which he is so known and celebrated, and very good movies at that. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a sharp comedy that benefits from Hitchcock’s able direction, a very clever script by Norman Krasna and just a twist of British humor.
Ann and David Smith have been married for 3 years and argue constantly. One morning at breakfast, Ann asks David if he were to go back in time and live his life again, would he marry her? He tells her no, and a large fight ensues before David leaves for work. At work, David learns that a technicality existed at the time of their marriage that rendered it invalid. Ann, who had been made aware of the news herself, becomes convinced that David will ask her to remarry him when they go out to dinner that night at their favorite restaurant. He doesn’t, and Ann throws him out of the house. After this, David goes to great lengths to get Ann back, including following her around and spying on her at work. David’s law partner decides to try to get the pair back together, but instead ends up falling for Ann. Through David’s continued attempts, he finally wins her back, replacing Jeff as Ann’s original love.
Though a very solid comedy with Lombard giving an especially skilled performance, the film is dated by its stance on the place of women in society. A movie in which a woman goes crawling back to a man who has stalked and tricked her is not one that would work in today’s society, and hence an otherwise immaculately crafted comedy suffers from the passage of time. There is, however, some very clever dialogue including a lengthy barrage of innuendo during a scene in which Jeff’s parents are introduced to David. Initially thinking he is just an acquaintance of Ann’s, they gradually learn that he and Ann have known each other for quite some time. Jeff’s mother remarks “You’ve probably seen a great deal of her!” This prompts some wonderfully awkward glances that let the viewer know that this innuendo was very much intended.
The chemistry between Lombard and co-star Robert Montgomery is fun to watch, but it is not as strong as Lombard’s chemistry with William Powell in My Man Godfrey. As with nearly all of Carole Lombard’s male co-stars, she and Montgomery were friends offscreen, though Lombard’s liberal Democratic political views clashed with Robert’s staunch Republicanism. Between takes, Carole would often sneak out and paste Roosevelt bumper stickers on Robert’s car, much to his chagrin.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith was the last of Carole Lombard’s movies to be released during her lifetime. It premiered on January 31, 1941, almost exactly one year before her untimely death.
See you next time!