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

Top 10 Disc Releases of 2018

(Updated 8/23/2019 from “Top 5 Disc Releases of 2018” to “Top 10 Disc Releases of 2018”)

Here’s the list you have been waiting for, on what I think are some of the best releases for 2018, giving new life to old classics and forgotten gems!  Again, my thoughts are coming ONLY from what I have been able to see myself.  And if any of these appeal to you, be sure to click on the movie titles to go to Amazon!

  1. Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • The classic musical about a family of seven brothers who fall in love with girls from town, this movie has been given a new lease on life.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of Warner Archive, this movie, which has been in bad shape for years, has a new restoration from newly rediscovered film elements that makes it look closer to how it was originally supposed to look than it has in a long time!  Do NOT miss this one if you can help it!  Full review here.
  2. The Sea Hawk (1940) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • The classic seafaring adventure starring Errol Flynn as an English captain helping Queen Elizabeth to stop King Phillip II of Spain from trying to take over the world. While parts of the movie were cut a long time ago for a theatrical double-feature, they were restored to the movie in the 80s, and the new Blu-ray restoration shows off the best that could be done for this wonderful movie! Full review here.
  3. Merrily We Live (1938) (Classicflix, Blu-ray and DVD, My Rating: 10/10)
    • A long-forgotten gem, this screwball comedy centers on a family whose matriarch (Billie Burke) is prone to hiring any tramp who comes to the door.  When Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne) is hired, almost all the female members of the household fall in love with him.  With a new restoration from the capable hands of Classicflix, this one is surely worth a try!  Full review here.
  4. My Man Godfrey (1936) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray and DVD, My Rating: 10/10)
    • One of the best-known screwball comedies, this movie starring William Powell and Carole Lombard features a “forgotten man” hired to be the butler for a very eccentric family.  Having been in the public domain for a number of years (which usually means poor transfers for the movies), this movie has been restored by Universal, and now looks fantastic!  Full review here.
  5. My Sister Eileen (1955) (Twilight Time, Blu-ray, My Rating: 9/10
    • The classic film musical starring Janet Leigh and Betty Garrett as a pair of sisters coming to New York to make their dreams come true. With a new high definition transfer, the movie looks even better, and shows off the scenery (not to mention the dancing as well)! Full review here.
  6. The Awful Truth (1937) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray and DVD, My Rating: 9/10)
    • In this classic screwball comedy that introduced us to the fully-formed Cary Grant persona, we have Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a couple who try to undergo divorce, only to find they can’t stand the thought of the other being with somebody else!  Recently restored from the best available elements for this release.  Full review here.
  7. Gun Crazy (1950) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 9/10)
    • In this film noir that predates the classic Bonnie And Clyde, we follow Peggy Cummins and John Dall, who star as a couple obsessed with guns who go on an increasingly violent crime spree. Released by Warner Archive Collection, their usual fantastic work is evident in the transfer, which brings this classic black-and-white film to life! Full review here.
  8. Designing Woman (1957) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 9/10)
    • In this comedy starring Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall, we follow a couple who just met and got married in a hurry, only to find out when they return home just how different their lifestyles are. As usual, Warner Archive has given us a great release on Blu-ray that looks fantastic, and is certainly the way to see the movie! Full review here.
  9. Home From The Hill (1960) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 9/10)
    • Robert Mitchum stars as Wade Hunnicutt, a big game hunter, whose son, played by George Hamilton, wants to live up to his father’s reputation, even though his mother firmly disagrees, due to the long-simmering feelings of hatred for her husband. The scenery and townsfolk are easily brought to life with the recent Blu-ray release, which is definitely the best way to see the movie! Full review here.
  10. King of Jazz (1930) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray and DVD, My Rating: 8/10)
    • A plotless musical revue, built around the orchestra and music of Paul Whiteman, recently restored to as close to its original length as possible.  Features the Radio City Rockettes (under a different name), along with other vaudevillian singers and dancers.  Also the film-debut of Bing Crosby.  Full review here.

Honorable mentions: Les Girls (1957) (Blu-ray, Warner Archive Collection), Casanova Brown (1944) (Blu-ray and DVD, Classicflix), Running Wild (1927) (Blu-ray and DVD, Kino Lorber)

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

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List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Show Boat (1936) – Irene Dunne

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