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 Phffft. The 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