My Favourite Wife review – Witty dialogue, moments of pure joy and the unexpected delight of seeing Cary Grant in fancy dress

Celebrating my birthday this week there was just one man I wanted to spend it with, well, until my boyfriend returned home from work: the wonderful, charming Cary Grant.

Over the last few months I’ve been working my way through Grant’s filmography. I decided to watch My Favourite Wife, released in 1940 and directed by Garson Kanin, on my birthday as being a screwball comedy I hoped that it would be light and fun to watch.

The film opens with Grant’s Nick Arden asking a judge to declare his wife, Ellen (Irene Dunne), legally dead, as she has been missing for seven years since her ship was lost at sea and he now wants to marry again. The judge, expertly performed by Granville Bates, is unintentionally very funny, which is where the humour starts.

As the film gets going – it’s short, at only 84 minutes – the laughs keep coming. Grant’s easy, natural charm is on full display, as Nick comes to terms with the unexpected return of his shipwrecked wife and having to break the news to his new wife, Bianca (Gail Patrick).

There’s a fantastic, hilarious scene when Nick decides to take a more cowardly approach. After Ellen arrives at the hotel where Nick and Bianca are honeymooning, Nick – after being accused of lowering the hotel’s respectability by renting rooms for both wives – decides that he must break things off with Bianca.

He decides to call her, and unbeknownst to both of them they are just one phone booth away from each other. As Nick lies about where he is and feigns the sound of an aircraft propeller, we are given a masterclass in the famous Grant wit and timing.

L-R: Gail Patrick, Cary Grant, Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott with Granville Bates.

As the action moves from the hotel to Nick’s house it is Dunne who then impresses with her comedic skills, especially when pretending to be an old friend of Nick’s when Nick and Bianca return home. Dunne is luminescent on screen, and I really enjoyed watching her in My Favourite Wife, the first film I had watched starring her.

Further hilarity ensues when it’s revealed that Ellen hasn’t spent the last seven years alone. Enter Randolph Scott’s statuesque and likeable Stephen Burkett. As Nick’s jealous streak emerges, Bianca almost disappears from the screen entirely until she consults a doctor, concerned at her new husband’s behaviour.

By the time the screwball comedy reaches its happy conclusion, My Favourite Wife shows Grant at his light-hearted finest. There’s witty dialogue, moments of pure joy and the unexpected delight of seeing Grant don a Father Christmas outfit.

It’s a very enjoyable way to spend 84 minutes and a film that I will certainly watch again.


My Favourite Wife (1940)

Director: Garson Kanin
Starring: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant

“Missing for seven years and presumed dead, a woman returns home on the day of her husband’s second marriage.” – IMDb

  • Nominated for three Academy Awards at the 1941 ceremony: Best Writing – Original Story, Best Art Direction – Black-and-White and Best Music, Original Score
  • An adaptation of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1864 poem, ‘Enoch Arden’

11 thoughts on “My Favourite Wife review – Witty dialogue, moments of pure joy and the unexpected delight of seeing Cary Grant in fancy dress

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  1. I enjoyed this film and in my opinion it showed some of the best of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. But I don’t think I liked the film as much as I could have done as I had already seen the remake of it- Move Over Darling- starring Doris Day and James Garner which was almost scene for scene for same! This meant it felt repetitive in places, so I kind of wish I’d seen My Favourite Wife first!

      1. No I didn’t know it was a remake when I watched it- I only found out afterwards! I really like both films, I just wish I could have watched both with fresh eyes haha

  2. This is a great comedy with a great cast led by the inimitable Cary Grant. Irene Dunne is such a versatile actress and she shines in this role. I even like the remake with Doris Day and James Garner

  3. This sounds like a lovely film, Claire! You seem to be in a Cary Grant kick lately, I have a ton of blindspots in regards to Grant, but I enjoyed him in To Catch A Thief and North by Northwest. Hope you’ll catch one of Gregory Peck movies soon, I’ve pretty much watched ALL of his films 🙂

    1. Thank you, Ruth – it was a very fun film. I recommend watching it.
      Yes, I am enjoying his films at the moment! I’m trying to catch them where I can on BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime.
      I haven’t seen any Gregory Peck films yet. Hopefully I have the opportunity to watch some soon.

  4. Grant is such an expert comedic actor, he was a fine dramatic one too but even in his dramas there is a wry knowing twinkle in his eye.

    While it’s not one of my favorites of his, this is a delightful film with wonderful interplay between all the performers. I also have seen the Doris Day/James Garner remake which is pleasant because of their skill as well as Thelma Ritter as Garner’s mother but missing a certain lightness this one possesses. It itself was a sort of remake, the project had been started under the title “Something’s Gotta Give” with Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin in the leads but there were constant problems (Marilyn was blamed but there were other forces at work as well) and Marilyn was fired. Fox then tried to substitute Lee Remick in her part but Dean Martin was having none of it. He said no disrespect to Lee Remick but he had signed to make a film with Marilyn and it was her or nothing. Marilyn and the studio had ironed out their difficulties after a couple of months and she was scheduled to resume shooting under a new director (original director George Cukor and she did not get along) when she died. Since the studio had a script ready they recast and went forward with Doris.

    Anyway back to the original, it is a breezy delight that moves at a good clip-an important element in comedy.

    I’m a big Cary Grant fan as well and have managed to see all his films over the years. Not sure what you’ve seen but here’s my top twelve (and a warning about a couple)

    The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
    North by Northwest
    Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
    Arsenic and Old Lace
    Bringing Up Baby
    His Girl Friday
    In Name Only
    The Philadelphia Story

    Like all great stars he had some clinkers, though probably less than some. The two absolute worst are a dog called “Once Upon a Time” where he plays a promoter trying to put over a dancing caterpillar!!! The other is an absolute travesty called “The Pride and the Passion” which he himself loathed heaping it with scorn whenever it was mentioned. It sounds good on paper-Grant costars with Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra and it was directed by Stanley Kramer but the story is stupid, everyone is miscast (Sinatra-in a terrible wig and atrocious accent-is supposed to be a Spanish freedom fighter!!) and it lumbers on forever.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Joel. I’ve seen seven of his films now and have really enjoyed them:

      The Bishop’s Wife
      His Girl Friday
      My Favourite Wife
      Operation Petticoat
      To Catch a Thief
      Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
      I Was a Male War Bride

      Operation Petticoat was interesting. Tony Curtis was playing the role that Grant would have taken, had it been filmed 10-15 years earlier.

      I think I might leave the two you’ve mentioned until the end. Once Upon a Time sounds, erm, interesting?!

  5. This one of my favorite Cary Grant vehicles. The man is never better than when he’s romping his way through a screwball comedy. Cary and Irene shine, but I always feel a bit sorry for poor Gail Patrick. Bianca may be vapid, but it would be awfully tiresome to lose one’s brand new husband to a wife who’s managed to come back from from the dead–no matter how impishly charming she may be.

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