CAT OF THE DAY 064: THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937)
In The Awful Truth, the characters played by Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are very much dog people. They have a dog called Mr Smith, played by a Wire Fox Terrier called Skippy, who also played Asta in The Thin Man (1934) and its sequels.
Mr Smith is the subject of a custody dispute between Grant and Dunne, who after a series of misunderstandings are going through a divorce, even though it’s clear they are still mad about each other. Skippy accordingly gets lots of screen time and cute dog reaction shots. But is the dog instrumental in getting the couple back together?
No. That’s why films need cats.
SPOILERS after the picture. (But hey, it’s a classic screwball “Comedy of Remarriage” so how unexpected could it possibly be?)
As the hour of their impending divorce approaches, Dunne and Grant end up having to spend the night in adjoining rooms at her Aunt Patsy’s cabin in the middle of nowhere. The door between the rooms keeps rattling, preventing them from falling asleep. At first, they (and we) think the rattling is due to to a draught coming through Grant’s open window.
But no, it’s a cat pushing at the door, deciding in that inimitable way cats have that it would rather be on the other side. So instead of falling asleep in their separate beds, Cary and Irene get back together.
And that’s why movies have cats in them!
And here, because I love you, is the funniest scene from the film. No dogs or cats, just Irene Dunne dancing with Ralph Bellamy, and Cary Grant’s reaction shots. Sublime.
- National Dog Show Crowns Wire Fox Terrier Best in Show – Again (peoplepets.com)
- SPOTTED: Cary Grant’s Old Plane Needs Serious Work (businessinsider.com)
A funny scene indeed, but so so cruel (esp. to Bellamy’s character, and in a way that feels slightly shameful). The Awful Truth in particular among the great screwballs changes a lot depending on ones own mood, whether one sees it with the right audience or by oneself, and so on. That’s so, I believe, because the wildcard of the shameful cruelty striking one differently under different micro-circumstances.
Unrelatedly, I’ve been trying to do due diligence on the 2012 Sight and Sound Top 100 – filling in my gaps – and have started to make my approach to Mt Satantango. A few bits of it are on youtube, including a (12 minute?) cat torture sequence which I gather is one of the most important scenes in the film. I think Satantango has to count as a ‘major cat movie’ and I suspect that this blog’s perspective on it would be valuable.
I agree it’s a bit cruel to Bellamy, but on the other hand, he IS a jolly good dancer, and I think the joke there is more on Dunne, because she considers herself too “sophisticated” to let rip; Grant’s laughing at her, not at Bellamy. In any case I think many classic screwballs in which repressed men are liberated by free-spirited women (Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve, Ball of Fire) are only a whisker away from film noir anyway. Film noir and screwball dovetailed in the “yuppie nightmare” subgenre of the 1980s (Something Wild, Into the Night, After Hours). I wrote more about that here:
As for Satantango and its 12 minute cat torture scene… one day, maybe. If somebody pays me.
A cat helps restore their marriage. That’s a great observation. I didn’t notice that when I watched it.
I prefer cats to dogs because a dog is often a high-maintenance relationship. Cats are less insecure and don’t need constant attention.
I wrote a short essay (400 words) on The Awful Truth called “How Trust is Restored.” If you would like to read it, I am open to any feedback: https://christopherjohnlindsay.wordpress.com/2017/01/22/the-awful-truth-1937/
haha! I watched The Awful Truth again recently and found that my recollection of it was wrong – the cat is trying to THWART their reunion, not save their marriage!
Typical cat! (More on this in my forthcoming Cats on Film book)