Craft III

film 3 of 3

The Awful Truth

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 28, 2015

Leo McCarey was a gag man for Hal Roach, and then one of his most trusted directors. At the Roach lot that meant collaborating or, as many rapturous recollections have it, singing parts around a piano with Stan and Ollie and Charley Chase. He went on to direct Eddie Cantor, and the Marx Brothers, in some important and agile early sound pictures.

At this point McCarey also took on, or pursued, some more personal projects. Howard Hawks and Raoul Walsh get a lot of the press and the credit (and we should add, for his own particular and considerable accomplishments, Michael Curtiz), but McCarey also came to be one of the industry’s supremely capable craftsman-artists. Artist-craftsmen. Which is it? Doesn’t matter! In this case, as so often, they’re interchangeable and inextricable.

Comedy can be analyzed, and should be. Film direction is a skill, or a set of them subsumed in an entire discipline. Writing, ditto, twice over. And there’s certainly some strange alchemy to the best acting—the performances in this film!—but it’s also a craft that can and must be learned.

All this goes for people who make movies, and people who see them too. We need to learn stuff! Having said all that, though, it might be just as well to get out of the way of this particular film. The Awful Truth is as accessible and ingratiating and entertaining as anything ever to come out of Hollywood (which was, after all, pretty well invented for a. & i. & e.). It’s also, somewhat more unusually, as deep and wise and beautiful as a film can possibly be. Somehow, during the course of this production smart and skilled melded with something very spiritual, and a more-or-less-miracle resulted. (You should try Make Way for Tomorrow (q.v.), which McCarey also directed in 1937!)

Actually, I am going to stop talking now. You know what to do next.