Image Source: Doctor Macro
Synopsis: After having himself legally declared a widower so that he can marry the uptight Bianca (Gail Patrick), the last person Nick Arden (Cary Grant) expects to turn up on his honeymoon is his first wife Ellen (Irene Dunne), who was lost at sea seven years ago and presumed dead. Turns out, she was just stranded on a deserted island with hunky Steven Burkett (Randolph Scott). Realizing that he still loves Ellen and wanting to keep her out of the brawny arms of Steven, Nick attempts to have his second marriage annulled. He just has to break the news to Bianca first — only Nick can’t quite get up the nerve to do it.
I’ve already said my piece (albeit very ambiguously and diplomatically) about the relationship between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. Some of you probably wish that that was all I had to say on the matter, but unfortunately for you, it’s not. In fact, the Cary/Randy dynamic is one of my favorite topics in the whole wide world to harp on endlessly. Although it may seem like an obvious choice, I can no longer resist my unrelenting urge to analyze the 1940 Leo McCarey-produced, Garson Kanin-directed screwball comedy My Favorite Wife. It was one of the first classic films I saw and has been a favorite ever since. And although the queerness in it is so obvious even the most oblivious homophobe could pick up on it, my gosh, it’s so delicious I just can’t resist. There’s one scene in particular that really pushes the envelope insofar as “coded” depictions of homosexuality go in classic film, and seems to do so simply for the fun of riling people up.
The fun begins when Nick (Grant) tracks down his supposed rival Steven (Scott) at the Pacific Club. Steven is by the pool supping on carrots (he’s a vegetarian, and that’s all we eat, don’tcha know).
As soon as Nick spots Steven, he is immediately surprised and taken with his physical beauty.
Steven gets up and proclaims his intentions to go for a dip.
Nick rises onto his tiptoes briefly, fully erect with attention. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
A woman comes up, gesturing to Steven, and asks Nick, “Young man, is that Johnny Weissmuller?” “No, but I wish it were,” Nick replies.
Steven prepares for his swan dive.
Nick is literally swooning.
Before diving into the pool, Steven does a magnificent flip on the rings.
“Not only is he gorgeous, he’s flexible too!” Nick seems to be thinking.
Later in his office, Nick cannot get his mind off of Steven’s half-naked, perfectly-toned body long enough to get his work done.
I know it’s a brief sequence, but this tongue-in-cheek allusion to the rumors about Grant and Scott’s personal lives never fails to shock and amuse me. It seems as though it must be deliberate; certainly they couldn’t pull off something this risky without being fully aware of what they were doing. I’ve heard that the rumors were supposedly milked in the publicity for My Favorite Wife, though I’ve yet to see the evidence on which this assertion is based. Do I think their chemistry in My Favorite Wife was played up deliberately to scandalize people, or perhaps just to poke fun at the gossip that was being spread about them? Was it, indeed, “just” gossip, or was it the truth? Did Cary Grant and Randolph Scott really have a romantic relationship?
Who cares? They’re both cute as buttons in this movie and I love it no matter what the truth or intentions behind it were.
Overall I don’t think My Favorite Wife gets enough credit. People usually refer to it as a “pale imitation” of Grant and Dunne’s 1937 success The Awful Truth, and while the last few minutes of the film do suffer for trying to mimic that previous film, on the whole it’s still a hilarious movie. All four principal actors are fantastic, the supporting cast is brilliant (specifically Granville Bates as the curmudgeonly judge), the script is solid and the directing is strong. Who cares if the story is unbelievable? It’s quirky and fun, and the players give it their all. It’s a fine example of the screwball genre and one I think is too often overlooked. Alright, so maybe I’m a bit biased due to the gay subtext; you can just consider that a bonus. One of my favorite movies and one that shouldn’t be missed.
My Favorite Wife (1940) – 4.5/5 stars