My Favorite Wife (1940)

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.

Say, folks! If you’re interested in the topic of queer images in film, have I got an event for YOU! From June 18-22, Garbo Laughs (that’s me) and Pussy Goes Grrr will be hosting the Queer Film Blogathon. Check it out now to find out how you can contribute and even win prizes. The party simply won’t be the same without you!

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 Curious Case of Cary and Randy

On and off for twelve years, Cary Grant and Randolph Scott shared a home on the Santa Monica beach dubbed by the publicity departments as “Bachelor Hall.” They met in 1932 on the set of Hot Saturday and formed a fast friendship… and maybe something else. Rumors raged at the time that, while rooming together in Bachelor Hall, the two were sharing more than just the rent. Certainly there are questions about the nature of the Grant/Scott relationship that remain to this day. Although I haven’t read it yet, I understand Cary’s only child, Jennifer Grant, alleges in her new book Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant that Grant reveled in the rumors about his sexuality because he felt it made him more desirable to women. This would seem to be contradicted by the fact that he sued Chevy Chase for $10 million in 1980 for alluding to gay rumors about Grant on a talk show.

In my opinion? I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth about Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, and that’s probably the way they wanted it. Although the following pictures are often used as “evidence” that they were lovers, as much as we want them to, a single snapshot of a single moment in the lives of two people cannot possibly reveal every detail and facet of their relationship. The pictures are clean, ambiguous, and while they definitely show a great intimacy, labeling that intimacy as automatically sexual in nature ignores the nuances of both sexuality and homosocial relationships. Does that mean I don’t think people should speculate? Of course people are allowed to speculate. As public figures, the lives of Grant and Scott are left open to interpretation by anyone and everyone who wishes to do so. It can’t possibly hurt them, given that they’re both long dead. It can be especially important for members of sexual minorities to be able to identify mirrors of their own experiences in famous people; oftentimes this stems from an individual or communal need for acceptance and recognition which has nothing at all to do with the real lives of the celebrities in question, but is still completely valid and vital. But the idea that Grant or Scott can be unequivocally “claimed” by either the straight or gay “camp” is unnecessarily divisive and seems to deny any fluidity in identity or behavior. We’re drawing lines instead of building bridges, and with people who are dead and can’t give us the truth, it all seems rather silly.

Entertainers are meant to give us joy. If it gives you joy to interpret the Grant/Scott relationship as romantic, do it. If it gives you joy to envision them as just really close friends, do it. Neither of those are bad things. But please, don’t make any claims that you can divine the “truth” when you weren’t there to witness it. You don’t have the right to deny anyone else’s reality just as they don’t have the right to define yours.


click images to enlarge

Image Sources: iCollector (1); Epifanie (2); Waterfilm (3); Daily Musto (4); Il Post (5); TCM CFU (6)

Penny Serenade (1941)

Image Source: Heritage Auctions

Synopsis: Julie Gardiner (Irene Dunne) is just a lonely girl working in a music shop when she meets handsome stranger Roger Adams (Cary Grant). The two fall instantly in love, but their courtship is cut short when Roger’s job as a newspaperman sends him to Japan. Before Roger departs, they have a quickie wedding and even quicker honeymoon. When Julie joins Roger in Japan a few months later, he is delighted to discover that she is pregnant. But their joy quickly turns to devastation when a catastrophic earthquake causes Julie to miscarry and leaves her unable to have children. When the couple moves back to the United States to start their own newspaper, their inconsistent income throws a wrench in their dream of adopting a child and becoming a real family. With the good-hearted Miss Oliver (Beulah Bondi) pulling for them at the orphanage and lovable third wheel Applejack (Edgar Buchanan) helping them make ends meet at home, will Roger and Julie be able to convince the powers-that-be that the love they have to give is enough to make their house a suitable home for a child in need?

I have a very special place in my heart for this dreadful little movie, directed by George Stevens for Columbia in 1941. Of course, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne first teamed up in the much-loved Leo McCarey screwball comedy The Awful Truth in 1937, now considered a classic of the genre; in 1940 they made My Favorite Wife, another delightful screwball and one of my personal favorites, directed by Garson Kanin and produced and co-written by McCarey. With these two brilliant and successful comedy hits behind them, Dunne and Grant teamed up one last time for Penny Serenade. I like to think of it as one cruel, vicious joke on the movie-going public. “You laughed and hooted along with their hilarious antics in The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife; now see them in Penny Serenade, where you will CRY YOUR EYES OUT FOREVER AND EVER AS THE PAIN AND SORROW REFUSE TO CEASE.” I imagine people flocking jovially to the theater, thinking they’re going to have a rollicking good time; but as they sit down, straps and buckles shoot out from the seats, trapping them in place, where they are bombarded with two straight hours of depressing, heart-wrenching, dead-baby melodrama. The mental image makes me laugh, because I’m a terrible person.

Your first mistake was building the house out of cardboard.

There are a few things I like about Penny Serenade. Cary Grant was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance here; watching the movie, you may not at first understand the reasoning behind this, but once you get to his impassioned appeal in the judge’s chambers, you’ll see why. It’s the best scene in the whole picture, and Grant gives a devastatingly vulnerable performance as he pleads to keep his adopted child whom the court is threatening to take away due to the Adamses’ lack of steady income. Maybe I’m insensitive, but I really don’t root for this couple; it’s irresponsible to think they can raise a child on love alone, and it’s pretty damn entitled of them to think they deserve a baby any more than the countless other couples who can provide a more stable home. But Grant’s speech does tug on my heartstrings, and I do believe it is the most emotionally exposed I’ve ever seen him. (Keep in mind, I have not yet been able to track down a copy of None But the Lonely Heart, the 1944 film for which he received his second Oscar nomination.) Besides Grant, I also have a fondness for Edgar Buchanan’s performance as the Adamses’ sweet-natured pal Applejack. Buchanan steals every scene he’s in – quite a compliment, given the star power of his illustrious co-stars!

While it has its moments, overall I find Penny Serenade to be an overblown melodrama that tries every trick in the book to squeeze a tear out of you. There are a few comedic scenes intended to lighten the mood, but in a way they almost make it worse; given all the sorrow that bombards them, laughing at these characters’ small joys is more painful than soothing. There’s nothing wrong with melodrama, but this one just seems too overwrought and unrealistic, to the point of campiness. The last twenty minutes are pure torture as the film is finally drowning in a sea of its own tears and trying like hell to pull you down with it. We do get a very tacked-on happy ending in the last few seconds, which is laughably nonsensical and, in a way, almost crass. Because I find camp irresistible, I do get enjoyment from this film, but maybe not for the reasons I’m supposed to.

Penny Serenade (1941) – 3/5 stars

Music Monday: Cary Grant Sings… Kind Of

I realize that it’s already January 3, but it’s never too late to send best wishes. Thinking about the New Year made me remember this delightful recording of Cary Grant singing… err, talking to music, and wishing us all good tidings in various languages from around the world. This comes from a 45rpm he made in 1967, “Here’s to You” being the B-side to his “Christmas Lullaby.” He recorded these for his only child Jennifer, who had just been born to his fourth wife Dyan Cannon. (Does anybody else have trouble remembering that Cary Grant had a child with Dyan Cannon?!?) I was surprised I couldn’t find “Here’s to You” already on YouTube, so I took five minutes out of my busy day to make this very slapdash “video.” It’s, um, not exactly my most successful creative endeavor, but the point was to share the song. has downloadable MP3s available of both “Here’s to You” and “Christmas Lullaby.” Enjoy!

Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon with baby Jennifer

Image Source: Noir and Chick Flicks