Mr. and Mrs. Smith is the rare screwball comedy to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock, supposedly as a favor to actress Carole Lombard.
The film was the final film to be released while Carole Lombard was still alive. Lombard was only 33 years old when she died in a tragic plane crash nearly a year after the film’s release. One can only wonder what kind of career she would have had if not for the tragedy. And yet, despite her early death, Lombard is an icon of American cinema, especially in screwball comedies and comedy in general. To Be or Not To Be (1942) is one of the greatest satires in cinematic history. It’s enough that I cannot find it in me to watch the remake. But I digress.
The gist of the film is that Ann (Carole Lombard) and David Smith (Robert Montgomery) are working their way through yet another disagreement. It takes a few days but eventually, the two of them reconcile with each other. It’s when Ann asks David if he could do it all again, would he marry agree to marry her. Even though he feels happy with her, he shockingly says he wouldn’t because it means the loss of freedom and independence. Umm, not exactly the answer that somebody wants to hear at this point. Cut to family friend Harry Deever (Charles Halton) separately informing David, Ann, and Ann’s mother, Mrs. Krausheimer (Esther Dale) that Ann and David’s marriage is invalid on account of a technicality. What could possibly go wrong?!?
The whole thing soon becomes ridiculous. David’s law partner, Jeff Custer (Gene Raymond), involves himself in the matter. If Ann so much as says yes to a date with Jeff, David will not remarry her. Ann and Jeff continue dating, even meeting Jeff’s parents and going on a vacation together. David has his own plans, perhaps wanting to get back with Ann. Will their be a happy ending? Put it this way, Montgomery wouldn’t have second billing if there wasn’t.
Hitchcock isn’t a fan of the film and I can certainly see why. His mastery is in the thriller genre, of which Mr. and Mrs. Smith is not. And again, the only reason why he allegedly did this film is because of Carole Lombard. Maybe he was looking to branch out into other genres at this point in his career. He had mostly done films in his native Britain up until coming over to the states and directing Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent. Most of those films were thrillers although he did a comedic thriller every now and then. It’s not a case of staying within one’s own lane but knowing what we know now, perhaps it’s best if Hitchcock had avoided the film altogether. Or maybe, just maybe, add some thrills into the mix! He mainly sticks to Norman Krasna’s script.
In another universe, this film would have starred Cary Grant instead of Robert Montgomery. Like Hitchcock, Montgomery was also on loan to RKO from a different studio. That’s how things used to be with studios doing each other a favor and loaning out talent and filmmakers. Ever the actor that he was, Grant’s schedule prevented him from doing so. It would almost certainly result Mr. and Mrs. Smith being a better film since Grant has the ability to elevate whatever project he stars in. Not always but most of the time, of course. To think what could have been…
Carole Lombard does her best in Mr. and Mrs. Smith but the film is more or less a blip in Hitchcock’s filmography.
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
SCREENWRITER: Norman Krasna
CAST: Carole Lombard, Robert Montgomery with Gene Raymond, Jack Carson, Philip Merivale, Lucile Watson
RKO Radio Pictures released Mr. and Mrs. Smith in theaters on January 31, 1941. Grade: 3/5
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