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MR. AND MRS. SMITH

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Carole Lombard, Robert Montgomery, Gene Raymond, Jack Carson
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Audio: English mono
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Video: Black & white, full-frame
Studio: Warner Brothers
Features:  Making-of documentary, trailer
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2004

"If you had it all to do over again, would you have married me?"

Film ***

Silver screen siren Carole Lombard was once referred to as "that screwball dame."  Blonde, beautiful and classy, Carole Lombard was pure Hollywood royalty, a major box office star of the early sound era (and married to Clarke Gable, too!).  Lombard worked with some of the finest directors of the day, including Howard Hawks, Gregory La Cava, and Ernst Lubitsch.  Despite her obvious skills as a dramatic actress, Lombard could easily slip into comic roles and was actually most popular for her comedies.  To call her a "screwball dame" was, in fact, a compliment, and the term "screwball comedy" came to define the light-hearted and fanciful films for which Lombard is best-remembered today.  Indeed, during the 1930's and early 1940's, Carole Lombard was the undisputed queen of the screwball comedies, perfecting a breezy but sophisticated style that blended in perfectly with the otherwise outlandish and often manic situations that frequently arose in her films.

Sadly, Carole Lombard's career was cut short in 1942 when her plane crashed during a tour of the American Midwest to promote U.S. War Bonds.  Her sudden death was considered a terrible tragedy by her millions of fans, including President Roosevelt, who said of her, "She gave unselfishly of time and talent to serve her government in peace and war.  She is and always will be a star, one we shall never forget nor cease to be grateful to."

Among her admirers was Alfred Hitchcock, who saw in her the ideals which would later become recognized as the characteristics of a quintessential Hitchcockian blonde.  The British director, fresh off the success of Rebecca (1940), was determined to work with the actress, even if that meant a foray outside his usual milieu of expertise, the suspense-thriller.

Hitchcock and Lombard would indeed work together on one film - Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941).  Today, this film stands alone among Hitchcock's works as the director's only pure comedy.  It contains absolutely no suspense or thriller elements at all.  In fact, as a screwball comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith may well be the most American of all Hitchcock's films.

Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery play the Smiths, an easy-going young couple living in New York City.  They have been happily married for three years, or so they believe.  One day, they learn that due to an administrative error, they haven't actually been married at all.  Imagine the scandalous implications - a single man and a single woman living together for three years and performing all the intimate deeds customary of any married couple!

Okay, social mores have changed quite some in the decades since this film was first released. Nevertheless, this unexpected twist in the Smiths' relationship provides the impetus for all of the film's subsequently humorous screwball moments.  Mr. David Smith is certainly willing to re-marry and to make an honest girl of the former Mrs. Ann Smith, now the newly re-liberated Miss Ann Krausheimer.  However, his "wife" is beginning to have second thoughts.  After three years of "marriage," each knows well the other's flaws and personality quirks, so the great testimony of true love is - knowing all that they do about one another, do David and Ann still love each another enough to marry again?

To furthermore complicate matters, David's lifelong friend and law partner, Jeff, upon learning of Ann's availability, decides to toss his own hat into the ring.  He begins to court her, even in David's presence!  And so suddenly, a curious love triangle develops between the two friends and Ann as both men vie for Ann's affections.

The situations which arise are predictably screwball in nature.  A romantic return to the restaurant of David and Ann's first date doesn't go as planned, as the restaurant has fallen into shabbier management.  Ann's first date with Jeff occurs at the same fancy club in which David ends up with his own ill-mannered blind date; the amusing evening concludes with David incurring a bloody nose and bruised ego.  A ski retreat between Jeff and Ann is foiled when David turns up in the next-door lodgings in a final attempt to win back Ann's love.

Of course, matters would be simpler if Jeff were a rotten scoundrel, but as portrayed by Gene Raymond, he is actually a likable and friendly fellow.  Even while he is running after his best friend's "wife," he remains a perfect gentleman, rational and chivalrous to the end.  Who will end up with Ann?  Will it be her "husband" David or her new suitor, Jeff?

Well, I'm not going to tell you, but suffice it to say that Mr. and Mrs. Smith lives up to its billing as a memorable screwball comedy.  True, it is unrecognizable as a Hitchcock film, but as a Carole Lombard vehicle, it showcases the Hollywood star in a charming performance that demonstrates her fine skills as a comic actress, especially with such a wonderful supporting cast as Robert Montgomery and Gene Raymond.

Video ***

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is shown in its original full-screen format.  The picture is remarkably crisp with detailed textures and solid contrast levels.  The transfer is excellent with hardly any dust or debris.  All black & white film restorations should look like this.  

Audio **

This film is presented in its original monaural track.  The sound has been cleaned of hiss or pops and is quite clean.  Although there is nothing spectacular about the audio, it is quite serviceable for this WWII-era film.

Features *

Mr. Hitchcock Meets the Smiths (16 min.) concentrates on the film and its main star attraction, Carole Lombard.  The first half of this featurette is essentially a tribute to Lombard and her film legacy, describing her influence on other comic actresses, especially Lucille Ball.  The second half of the featurette discusses the comic premise of the film and highlights some of Mr. and Mrs. Smith's funnier sequences.  Also, we'll see Hitchcock's otherwise difficult-to-spot cameo from the film.

Lastly, there is also a very short trailer for the film.

Summary:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith was Carole Lombard's second-to-last film.  Although atypical of Hitchcock, this film is a very fine screwball comedy and a fun journey back in time to a more gentile and innocent era in cinema.

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