Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Norman Krasna
No, not that Mr. & Mrs. Smith. While Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie may have caught the attention of most of the pop culture world when they released their film about a married couple who were both secretly rival spies, Hitch released his “version” (which in fact has nothing to do with the later film other than in title) way back in 1941. Hitchcock is known by most to be the master of suspense, known for such notable films as Psycho, Rear Window, North by Northwest, and more. But what my initial exploration of Hitchcock films from his days in England taught me was that he was actually quite interested in comedies as well. His sense of humor always finds a way into his suspense films as well, but Mr. & Mrs. Smith it might surprise you is a screwball comedy film about a silly misunderstanding between a married couple.
Ann (Carole Lombard) and David Smith (Robert Montgomery) have been married for three years now, with occasionally spats which might last days. But after David expresses, honestly, that while very happy he wouldn’t have married Ann if he had to do it over again, valuing his freedom and independence, they ironically soon learn separately that their marriage is in fact invalid due to a random mistake with the marriage license. Ann assumes that David will remarry her right away, but after a failed date at an old romantic spot which has since become rundown, their relationship begins to run off the rails. David’s friend and law partner Jeff (Gene Raymond) begins to support Ann, in law and friendship, which causes even greater tension between the once happily married couple.
While I’m experienced with Hitchcock comedies, I must admit that off hand none are memorable or spring to mind as easy recommendations from the storied filmmaker. And likewise, Mr. & Mrs. Smith does not jump off the screen in any way that would make it something worth discussing at length when reviewing the filmography of Hitchcock. I’ve enjoyed bits here and there, and this film is no different, but largely it is not his strength. Specifically what seems to be wrong about this film is it’s just not all that funny. It tries, and there are obvious spots that should be funny, but as delivered did not warrant a laugh from me on this viewing.
The scenario is certainly ripe for a great screwball comedy but perhaps this film is hurt by its casting. Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery were both notable names for their time, but they’re not Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, or any number of names often associated with the peak of the screwball comedy genre. Hitchc was still making a name for himself in Hollywood, and between this and Foreign Correspondent, it’s obvious he didn’t yet have the cache for top of the line casting. Lombard and Montgomery are fine, I don’t want to confuse that, but the film certainly lacks a certain energy and charisma that may have helped elevate the film from what it is.
With many of his comedies, Hitchcock seems just on the cusp, but I also wonder how many more examples I need to see before I realize that while he may have liked making these films, and none of them are necessarily “bad”, it just might be a genre he delved into for personal gratification. I want to be clear there is nothing wrong with that, and that I’ll continue to look for things I like in his comedy films, but perhaps lower your expectations. Mr. & Mrs. Smith has its moments, but it amounts to a mere average screwball comedy, one where it is painfully obvious there are other better examples of the execution of the genre.