Original Vs. Remake: The Awful Truth (1937) Vs. Phffft (1954)

We’re back again for another round of “Original Vs. Remake!”  To be fair, like my original post in the series (on My Man Godfrey and Merrily We Live), this one isn’t so much on a film and its remake, but on two similar titles made over a period of time: The Awful Truth (1937) and Phffft (1954).  As usual, I will borrow my plot descriptions from the original reviews.

The Awful Truth: We find Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) and his wife, Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) getting divorced, due to their suspected (but not proven) infidelities.  They try to move on, but Lucy’s attempted romance with Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy) is sabotaged by Jerry’s constant interruptions.  Lucy finally realizes she loves Jerry and calls off the relationship with Daniel, only to find that Jerry has also taken up with somebody.  So Lucy decides to engage in some sabotage herself.

Phffft: After much thought, television serial writer Nina Tracy (Judy Holliday) decides she wants to divorce her lawyer husband Robert Tracy (Jack Lemmon). However, instead of the shocked reaction she expected, he announces that he had been feeling the same way. So, off she goes to Reno, Nevada, and the divorce is granted. Robert moves in with his playboy (and playwright) friend Charlie Nelson (Jack Carson), while Nina spends some time with her mother, Edith Chapman (Luella Gear). Robert and Nina both still have feelings for each other, but everybody else in their lives are trying to encourage them to move on. Nina tries to go out with one of the stars of her show, Rick Vidal (Donald Curtis), but he only wants to become the main character of the show. Robert tries going out with Charlie’s friend, Janis (Kim Novak), but it doesn’t work out well for him, either. Robert and Nina try to come back together, but they end up fighting again. Will these two be able to get along again as a couple, or will they be able to get over each other?

As I said, these two are not based on the same story (but I’ll get to that in a bit), but have quite similar stories.  They are both of the “a couple gets divorced but find themselves unable to make it stick” genre.  Getting more into the details of the story itself, both of the main female characters have an older female relative that they spend time with (Irene Dunne’s Lucy has her aunt in The Awful Truth and Judy Holliday’s Nina has her mother in Phffft).  In both of those instances, the relatives are pushing the main female character back into relationships with other men.  The main couples of these movies essentially manage to stay connected instead of going their separate ways (in The Awful Truth, Lucy has custody of their dog, but Jerry has visitation rights, and in Phffft, Robert still acts as Nina’s lawyer and helps her deal with her taxes).  As a result of them staying in contact, the couples almost come back together partway through in both stories, but something causes them to pull back apart, if only until the end of the film.

Of course, even with those similarities, these two films do manage to take different directions.  To start with, they’re not based on the same property, as The Awful Truth was based on a play of the same name by Arthur Richman (although how much of the play was retained is debatable, considering the film director’s penchant for letting his cast improvise), and Phffft was based on an unproduced play by George Axelrod.  Storywise, we find that Phffft does give us the “meet-cute” story (via flashback), while The Awful Truth doesn’t tell us anything of the sort.  Meanwhile, while the women in both films have a relative that they stay with or talk to, it’s not quite the same for the men, as Cary Grant’s Jerry more or less goes it alone (outside of his relationships), while Jack Lemmon’s Robert has his friend (played by Jack Carson) that he stays with (and gets relationship advice from).  And speaking of their separate attempts at romance, that alone is different between the two films, as The Awful Truth more or less focuses on those relationships, with little view into their outside lives (particularly their work), while we do see both of the main characters at their jobs in PhffftThe Awful Truth is marked mainly by the two characters trying to interfere in the relationships of the other, whereas no such interference actually happens in Phffft (it almost does near the end, when Robert tries to stop his friend from doing anything, but his friend has already failed his attempt and left before Robert can get there).

Getting down to which movie I prefer, it’s an easy decision: The Awful Truth.  I’ll admit Phffft does have some things going for it, as I like the characterizations given by the actors.  They give us a real relationship, with their characters displaying different personality quirks that make it more interesting.  Both films contain some dancing, which makes it fun for me, but the way it is used affects how much I enjoy it.  Phffft plays it more seriously, as both characters decide to take up learning to dance, and manage to end up at the same nightclub, where they accidentally end up dancing together. In The Awful Truth, the dancing is played up for fun, with Lucy stuck dancing a slightly “countrified” dance with Daniel, much to her embarrassment (and the amusement of both Jerry and us, the audience). But, when you ultimately get down to it, I’ll still pick the cast (and story) of The Awful Truth over Phffft. The more screwball aspects of The Awful Truth work better for this reason. When given the material to work with, Cary Grant is one of the funniest actors to see (and he got the material). Jack Lemmon is also fun, but I’ve seen him with far better material than he had here. I’ve had fun with both movies, and I would definitely recommend both, but The Awful Truth is the clear winner here for me!

The Awful Truth

Film Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes

My Rating: 9/10


Film Length: 1 hour, 29 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

The Winner (in my opinion): The Awful Truth

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Show Boat (1936)

And now we have that classic 1936 film musical Show Boat, starring Irene Dunne and Allan Jones!

Coming Up Shorts! with… A Balmy Swami (1949)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 3 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

(Length: 6 minutes, 49 seconds)

Popeye has to deal with magician Bluto when he hypnotizes Olive. You guessed it, we’re back to Popeye Vs. Bluto fighting over Olive. Certainly some fun gags, with Bluto making use of his magic, even when they get beyond the theater they start out in and move on to the construction site where Olive has walked to in her trance. While it really doesn’t break any new ground, I still enjoyed this one, and feel it is worth a shot!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Captain Andy Hawks (Charles Winninger) runs the show boat The Cotton Palace with his family and his theatrical troupe, which includes leading man Steve Baker (Donald Cook) and his leading lady Julie LaVerne (Helen Morgan), plus comedic dance team Frank Schultz (Sammy White) and Elly (Queenie Smith). Trouble comes, though, when it is revealed that Julie, who had one black parent, was married to Steve, a white man, which was illegal in that area. While they got out of that trouble, Steve and Julie were forced to leave the Cotton Palace just the same. Captain Hawks decided to promote his daughter, Magnolia Hawks (Irene Dunne), to the leading lady, and brought in river gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Allan Jones) to be the leading man, since he was seeking passage elsewhere anyways. Magnolia and Gaylord fall for each other, much to the dismay of her mother Parthy Ann Hawks (Helen Westley). Soon, they get married in spite of Parthy’s objections. A year later, Magnolia gives birth to their daughter, Kim, and Gaylord decides the three of them should move to Chicago. At first, all seems to go well, but then Gaylord gambles and spends all their money. Frank and Elly come to Chicago looking for a cheap place to stay since they got a job at a local nightclub, and they find the apartment they are looking at is being rented by none other than Magnolia and Gaylord! Of course, their timing couldn’t be worse, as Magnolia and Gaylord are being evicted and Gaylord decides to leave her, so she must find a job to survive. She auditions at the club where Frank and Elly are working, but it is only after the club’s current singer (which turns out to be Julie LaVerne) leaves that Magnolia is given the job. Magnolia’s parents have come to town in time for New Year’s Eve to see her, but it is her father who comes across her singing at the nightclub. When he sees her start to falter, he tries to support her, giving her the needed confidence that allows her to become a star on stage and make a comeback.

Edna Ferber published her novel Show Boat in 1926. Universal Studios soon bought the rights to the story, hoping to make a silent movie out of it. However, before they could finish, The Jazz Singer premiered, ushering in the era of sound in the movies. And of course there was also Ziegfeld’s successful production of the stage musical with music by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Universal tried to buy the rights to the score from the musical, but by that time, enough of the movie had been done that it was too late for them to do much more than add a few of the songs to an otherwise silent movie. However, after a few years and more financial success for the studio through their horror films, they were able to try to do it again as a more full-blown musical. And, in their favor, they were able to put together a cast that consisted of cast members from the Broadway show’s original run as well as other revivals and touring shows, plus bring back the composers for a few new songs and rewrites. The results were big, with the 1936 version becoming the most highly regarded film version of the tale.

I am at this point more or less coming off my first full viewing of this movie, after having seen the later 1951 MGM musical many times over the years (but I’ll worry about comparing the two another day). With this movie, I can’t help but admit to having enjoyed it very much! Sure, the movie does have its issues, with Irene Dunne wearing blackface for one song on the show boat, not to mention the portrayals of most of the black characters being a little too stereotypical. In spite of all that, though, I can’t help but enjoy it! The movie overall is wonderful with bits of comedy here and there (especially when Charles Winninger’s Captain Andy tries to show the audience what would have happened had the show not been interrupted by an audience member who forgot they were watching a show and threatened the show’s “villain”). And the music is wonderful, too! Hearing Paul Robeson’s version of “Ol’ Man River” was very much a treat to watch and listen to! All the performances work well for me, and I can’t deny the film’s ending certainly tugs on your heartstrings (at least it does mine)! So I would DEFINITELY recommend trying this one!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. This release features a brand-new 4K restoration of the movie, and it looks absolutely fantastic! I can’t recommend it enough! At the moment, I’d certainly put in for this being one of the best looking releases of the year (obviously, that can change, but I admit I like it just the same)! This release also features some footage from the 1929 version, with some of the sound segments as well as about twenty minutes worth of the silent movie (even if it appears to be standard definition), plus two radio shows featuring some of the cast, as well as a few other featurettes on the director and actor Paul Robeson. Overall, a release worth recommending!

Film Length: 1 hour, 54 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

Audience Rating:

*ranked #2 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2020

**ranked #4 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2020

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Stingaree (1934) – Irene Dunne – The Awful Truth (1937)

Rose-Marie (1936) – Allan Jones – One Night In The Tropics (1940)

Charles Winninger – Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939)

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… Stingaree (1934)

This time around, we’re getting into the 1934 movie Stingaree, starring Irene Dunne and Richard Dix.

In this movie, Irene Dunne plays Hilda Bouverie, a maid to the vain, wannabe singer Mrs. Clarkson (Mary Boland) in Australia.  Mrs. Clarkson has invited Sir Julian Kent (Conway Tearle), a man of some importance in the world of opera, to her home for a party (where she plans to sing for him). Hilda, however, is the one who can actually sing, but Mrs. Clarkson decides to send her elsewhere during the party. Sir Julian is, however, kidnapped by the notorious bandit Stingaree (Richard Dix), and Stingaree takes his place. At Mrs. Clarkson’s home, he hears Hilda sing, and, while falling in love with her, decides that he must have Sir Julian hear her sing.

This movie is considered to be a hybrid of musical and Western (even though it takes place in Australia). I think it is a fun movie, although I would say that the music is rather forgettable. From what I have read, this is the movie that established Irene Dunne as a singer in the movies, and she would follow it up with Roberta and the 1936 Show Boat, among others. In reading about this movie, I found out that the studio, RKO, had tried to sign actress Jeanette MacDonald for the part. I can believe it, as the film seems similar to some of Jeanette’s movies, especially some of the ones she made with Nelson Eddy. However, I do like Irene Dunne in the role, and I think it works for her.

Apparently, this movie has had a bit of a rough life. In the mid-forties, it was given to its original producer, Merian C. Cooper, as part of a legal settlement with RKO (along with five other movies). Outside of one time it was aired back in the fifties (from what I’ve read), it hadn’t really been seen until Turner Classic Movies was able to get the rights and show it again in 2007. Apparently, though, the movie seems to have fallen into the public domain, as Kino Lorber was able to release it on Blu-ray and DVD without having to license it from Warner Brothers, whom I would have assumed had the rights. The disc case claims it is a new restoration. I’m not completely sure that “restoration” is the right word for it. It has been given an HD transfer, but it certainly could have done with some more cleaning up. Personally, I think it looks good enough I can live with it. My problem with the release has more to do with the audio. The dialogue is not always as clear as I would prefer (although I don’t know enough about restoration techniques to know what, if anything, could be done about it). However, I could have lived with the audio IF ONLY THERE COULD HAVE BEEN SUBTITLES ON THIS RELEASE. While I understand that to do subtitles costs money (especially if they have to do it themselves instead of having the studio provide them), it still would have been nicer if they were there. In my opinion, if the audio could have been improved so that the dialogue could have been clearer, and/or there had been subtitles, I could have enjoyed the movie much better. So, I would recommend the movie itself, as it is a wonderful movie, but I have a hard time recommending this recent disc release at full price.

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

Film Length: 1 hour, 17 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Irene Dunne – Show Boat (1936)

Reginald Owen – The Good Fairy (1935)

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… The Awful Truth (1937)

Here we are again with a new release for 2018, the 1937 screwball comedy The Awful Truth, starring Irene Dunne, Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy.

We find Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) and his wife, Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) getting divorced, due to their suspected (but not proven) infidelities.  They try to move on, but Lucy’s attempted romance with Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy) is sabotaged by Jerry’s constant interruptions.  Lucy finally realizes she loves Jerry and calls off the relationship with Daniel, only to find that Jerry has also taken up with somebody.  So Lucy decides to engage in some sabotage herself.

I have heard this being described as one of the best, if not the best, screwball comedies.  While I personally wouldn’t go quite that far, I can’t deny that this movie does belong up there.  I very much consider Cary Grant to be the king of screwball comedies, as the very mention of any of his movies being considered “screwball comedies” is enough to convince me to try the movie.  While, for me, this is one of his weaker screwball comedies, I still have nothing but high praise for the movie.

There are many things that this movie does right.  Ralph Bellamy in his Oscar nominated role as Daniel Leeson seems to be the forerunner of the type of character he would play again in other screwball comedies like Carefree (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940).  The buildup between Cary Grant’s Jerry and Alexander D’Arcy’s Armand Duvalle, the man whom Jerry suspects Lucy of having an affair with (not really true), which results in a fight that we can only hear when Jerry has to hide in Lucy’s bedroom at a time that Armand is already hiding from Jerry is absolutely hilarious.  And of course, I can’t forget Irene Dunne’s Lucy doing an imitation of one of Jerry’s early girlfriends after the breakup, Dixie Belle Lee (Joyce Compton), for the heiress he is almost engaged to, was certainly funny.  And to think that so much of what was done in the movie was spontaneous, due to director Leo McCarey’s style of doing things, is just awe-inspiring (never mind the fact that this movie was the first time that we get to see Cary Grant’s screen persona fully formed).

I do recommend this movie if you get the chance!  The movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

*ranked #6 on Top 10 Disc Releases of 2018

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Show Boat (1936) – Irene Dunne

Wedding Present (1936)Cary GrantBringing Up Baby (1938)