Friday, May 16, 2008

Film Friday: I Was a Male War Bride

The Cary Grant parade continues. I recently bought about ten Cary Grant movies, so this isn't going to end any time soon. Meanwhile, I got two more through Netflix I had never seen. Today's offering is I Was a Male War Bride, directed by Howard Hawks and released in 1949, starring Cary Grant and and Ann Sheridan.

Now, three of my favorite words in the English language are Cary + Grant + Drag. As a result, it's a surprise I haven't seen this movie sooner. Grant's Henry is a French officer in Germany (I appreciate the fact that they didn't do anything to make Cary Grant French) and he's got a very flinty relationship with Sheridan's Catherine Gates, a lieutenant in the US Army. After they go on a mission together, they decide they're in love and they get married. The zaniness is amped up a few notches when it feels like the whole world is conspiring to keep the newlyweds apart--permanently, it seems, when Catherine is sent back Stateside.

The movie starts out very strong with Grant and Sheridan playing off each other. I can't tell if he's her worthy adversary, or if she's his. But it seems like she knows just how to play him, and of course, in typical Cary Grant fashion, he knows just how to handle somebody as smart and capable as Catherine. Here's the thing I really appreciate about the screwball comedies--the women are genuinely "sassy" and "spunky" and "intelligent." They don't do stupid shit that a smart woman would never do. Yes, they are reduced to tears occasionally, but women cry for lots of reasons, including anger and frustration. So I don't hold that against them.

Anyway, after all the fun of the first part, they decide to get married. Henry in love isn't too different from Henry out of love, and there's even the occasional threat of violence against her. At one point, he reaches for his hat, and she ducks! Still, I got the sense that if he had crossed that line and hit her, she would have hit him back. Probably would have popped him in the nose. There's minor conflict over getting married, but it gets worked out quickly.

The third act--the one that the title really refers to--is when things start getting uncomfortable for me. It is an endless period of trials and jerks. Their honeymoon is interrupted, she's transferred, she can't sleep in his quarters, they can't sleep in hers. They can't get him a visa to America. They have to declare him a male war bride. But that just makes things more complicated. Ultimately, it began to feel like some sort of existential nightmare. I think it went beyond comedy to some sort of commentary on the futility of...well, existence. Seriously, it may seem like I'm overstating this, but by the time I reached the end of the movie, I was extremely relieved. I wonder of Hawks was trying to convey the increasing sexual frustration, so the end is a climax for the viewer and the characters?

Ultimately, though, I love the movie. It made me laugh out loud more than once, and I think Ann Sheridan is my new hero. Cary Grant was hot as always--and oh yeah, there's all kinds of gay subtext! The only thing I love more than Cary Grant in drag is Cary Grant in drag with the appropriate amount of gay subtext.

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