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Saturday Night Cinema: Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)

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Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema is a wonderful, little known Hitchcock comedy from 1941, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring the sparkling, incandescent Carole Lombard. Alfred Hitchcock took a detour from mystery films to direct this offbeat comedy.

It was Lombard’s penultimate film, and she demonstrated her playful wit by showing up Hitchcock’s claim that “actors are cattle” by bringing on to the set three cows with ribbons round their necks reading “Carole Lombard,” “Robert Montgomery” and “Gene Raymond.”

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They’re married for bitter or worse – until a technicality renders the union void. But now Mr. misses Mrs. and he’s desperate to win her back. A rare and delightful foray into screwball comedy from suspense master Hitchcock.

Carole Lombard was perfectly cast as Mrs. Smith, and looks beautiful. Robert Montgomery seemed bored with the whole thing and appeared just to walk through his part. Gene Raymond is capable of doing better things than the part dished out to him here. He was miscast. The rest of the roles were just bits.

Early in the picture, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who have never left their bedroom not speaking in their three years of married life, which at times kept them cooped in for days and days, found that, through a fluke of a county boundary line, they were not married, and when Mr. Smith does not insist on remarrying Mrs. Smith the same day he gets the news, Mrs. Smith ups and leaves him. But you know they will be back together and you expect some very funny situations in the effort. They did get back at the tag of the picture, but there was too little fun in their doing it.

At the Music Hall
T.S.
Published: February 21, 1941

Hot on the heels of one marital contretemps there arrived yesterday on the Music Hall screen another squabbling Punch and Judy—or rather, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” And without bothering to peer behind those slightly frayed curtains one knows immediately that the manipulator of these shrill puppets is no ordinary sideshow mountebank but a fellow with Machiavellian cunning, a fellow no less than Alfred Hitchcock. Who could be so slyly tantalizing, so devilishly witty, or who could so nearly succeed in making us forget that Judy has been buffeted by the slapstick a great many times since “The Awful Truth,” which was further back than we care to remember.

For the awful truth in the present instance is that for all of Mr. Hitchcock’s comic subtleties, Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s farandole about the marriage bed bears more than a passing resemblance to previous excursions into the realm of the strip-tease. We have again a vexatiously dim-witted young wife and the stumbling, well-meaning partner, who discover shortly after a three-day argument that a quixotic State boundary has rendered their marriage less than legal. Out of this molehill situation there develops a mountain of nonsense with Mr. Smith desperately trying to clamber up its slope to regain his outraged spouse.

What distinguishes Mr. Hitchcock’s magic mountain is the angle at which he has set his camera, the means by which he has underscored the ludicrousness of a situation which could be set aright in a twinkle by a grain of common sense. When Mr. and Mrs. Smith try to recapture an ardent courtship in a half-forgotten spaghetti tavern, the director sets a most sinister cat on their table to stare at the soup. David’s successive nights away from home are registered by the missing key of the rack at the Beefeater’s Club. When David jauntily anticipates the success of his schemes for a rapprochement, Mr. Hitchcock gives you the denouement with a mocking little tune; when the two make up, he shows you a friendly toe under the table.

To spin this off-center comedy, one needs actors who can catch a jest on the wing. Mr. Hitchcock has them. Carole Lombard caromes through the role of Mrs. Smith as if she hadn’t a brain in her head, which is what she is supposed to do. Robert Montgomery as the confused husband has never been funnier than in that moment when he tries to escape an embarrassing situation by courageously punching his own nose. Gene Raymond, however, as the intruding male, is too colorless to serve as a really convincing foil.

But after a long cycle of similar ventures, the bloom is off the rose. Despite the performances, despite the endless camera magic with which Mr. Hitchcock tries to conceal the thinness of his material, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” have their moments of dullness. The result is a chucklesome comedy that fails to mount into a coruscating wave of laughter.

MR. AND MRS. SMITH, original screen play and story by Norman Krasna; directed by Alfred Hitchcock for RKO-Radio Pictures.
Ann Smith . . . . . Carole Lombard
David Smith . . . . . Robert Montgomery
Jeff Custer . . . . . Gene Raymond
Chuck . . . . . Jack Carson
Mr. Custer . . . . . Philip Merivale
Mrs. Custer . . . . . Lucile Watson
Sammy . . . . . William Tracy
Mr. Deever . . . . . Charles Halton
Mrs. Krausheimer . . . . . Esther Dale
Martha . . . . . Emma Dunn
Gertie . . . . . Betty Compson
Gloria . . . . . Patricia Farr
Proprietor of Lucy’s . . . . . William Edmunds
Lily . . . . . Adele Pearce

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