Meet the Smiths
MR AND MRS SMITH — dispel all thoughts of Brangelina, that two-headed monster, for this is Hitchcock’s first American comedy, made at RKO on loan-out from Selznick, as a favour to Carole Lombard, with whom he’d wanted to work for some time. She’s one of the Hollywood star Hitch wrote about while still in England, and when he move to LA she became, essentially, his landlady for a while.
Where did I read this? –
Hitchcock bumps into Carole Lombard outside the screening room, where he’s just viewed the rushes. She’s come to see them, but she’s late. Hitch assures her that the rushes are fine and she’s good in them.
“Fuck that, how do my new tits look?”
And who, commenting here, pointed out the fascinating deliberate continuity error where Robert Montgomery’s socks change their pattern according to his and Lombard’s emotions?
I always thought that the little guy who brings the bad news, was played by Warner Brothers voice artist Mel Blanc. Maybe when I saw it as a kid, my Dad looked at the guy and said “Elmer Fudd!” It’s not, though, it’s a fellow called Charles Halton. Why did nobody put Blanc in a major movie role?
It’s subtle, but it’s there.
First time I saw the film I liked it fine. Second time I disliked it quite a bit. This time it seemed pretty good to me. I will say that, thanks to our auteurist appreciation of Hitchcock, and his fame, the movie gets a little more attention than it deserves. HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE is a ten-times-better screwball comedy, I’d say, also written by Norman Krasna and starring Lombard, but directed by the less-celebrated Mitchell Leisen, and very few people have seen that compared to SMITHS.
The Smiths, lawyer husband and sexpot wife, who have a tempestuous but successful three-year marriage, learn that the partnership is not strictly legal, due to some convoluted zoning problem, and break up. He (Robert Montgomery) tries to win her back, mainly by acting like a dick. His buddy Jack Carson is useful for audience sympathy purposes, because Carson’s character is an even bigger lout than Montgomery.
Then Montgomery’s other pal, Gene Raymond, starts wooing Carole, which at least gives Montgomery something to be aggrieved about. But instead of making Raymond the heavy, screenwriter Norman Krasna types him as a classic romcom schnook. I always like schnooks. I often like them better than the hero.
Raymond gets the funniest scene, when he’s drunk. Very fine physical work, lurching and sort of bobbing in the air, and a refrain of “Thank you,” which gets more absurd with each repetition. This comes after a disastrous date where the couple get caught in a broken fun-fair ride. This reminds me of the story of Hitch sending his daughter up on a Ferris wheel and tipping the operator to kill the engine and strand her aloft. I wonder what Hitch would have done with a really black comedy, where he could let his sadistic side have free reign?
There are quite a few moments in this film when I had trouble understanding the character motivation. Is Lombard really through with Montgomery, or is she just testing him? At the end, she rejects Gene Raymond because he won’t beat up her “husband,” then allows herself to be trapped in her skis by the guy she wanted beaten, and the movie ends in a rather peculiar bit of play-rape. I could never figure that out.
The movie is extremely elegantly shot, though, with a gliding camera and flying furniture which escapes the path of the dolly with invisible sideways movements. I’d like to say more about this film, but the Edinburgh Film Festival is eating up too much of my time — so over to you!