My Favorite Wife, 1940, RKO Radio Pictures. Starring Cary Grant, Irene Dunne. Directed by Garson Kanin. B&W, 88 minutes.
Nick Arden (Cary Grant) has been grieving the loss of his wife, Ellen (Irene Dunne), believed dead in a plane crash, for seven years. He’s ready to get married again to the lovely Bianca (Gail Patrick) and has gone to court both to have Ellen declared legally dead and marry Bianca.
In the meantime, Ellen has been miraculously rescued from the desert island she’s been living on this whole time, and is returning home just as Nick and Bianca are saying “I do.” She learns of their nuptials and subsequent plans for a honeymoon, and heads out to keep things from getting any more complicated.
Impossible to keep things from becoming tangled up in a situation like this, however, especially when you add in one Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott), who, it turns out, spent the entire missing seven years on the island with Ellen. And Stephen is no slouch.
Let’s not forget Nick and Ellen have two children together, a boy and a girl who were mere babies at the time their mother went missing.
This is a fun film, one you will hear referred to in popular culture from time to time, and a strong showcase for the talents of Grant and Dunne. Gail Patrick was in top form as the unfortunate Bianca; a challenging comedic character to play if there ever was one. Patrick maintained the fine balance that allowed the audience to feel sympathy for Bianca while still routing for Ellen.
Leo McCarey, who had directed Grant and Dunne in The Awful Truth, was set to direct My Favorite Wife when he was in a critical car accident that nearly cost him his life. Garson Kanin stepped in and took over as director, with McCarey giving input once he was able.
Kanin and McCarey, along with Sam and Bella Spewack, developed the screenplay, based on the Lord Tennyson poem, “Enoch Arden.” McCarey originally had Jean Arthur in mind for the role of Ellen, but she was unavailable once filming began. Coincidentally, Arthur starred in the film Too Many Husbands, also based on the Tennyson poem, released that same year.
My Favorite Wife was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Story, Best Score and Best Art Direction. It was remade in 1963 in the equally engaging Move Over, Darling with Doris Day, James Garner and Polly Bergen.