In this new series of articles, our writers are watching classic films for the first time. This time we have Joseph Bullock catching up on Garson Kanin’s 1940 screwball comedy My Favourite Wife.

While not as famous as the some of the great romantic comedies by the likes of Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, or Preston Sturges, My Favourite Wife is nevertheless a well-respected and incredibly entertaining example of the genre. Written by Leo McCarey, who wrote and directed the excellent My Man Godfrey (1936), the film’s plot and numerous standout scenes are classically screwball.

After thinking his wife Ellen has died after having gone missing for years, Nick Arden (Cary Grant) remarries with Bianca Bates (Gail Patrick). In a rather poorly timed act of rebirth, Ellen (played brilliantly by Irene Dunne) returns just after her husband has married another woman—one that he surely does not love. The puzzle of competing romances is complicated further by the attractive Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott), who Nick is shocked to find out has been marooned with his wife over the past few years.

The movie follows classic screwball comedy conventions in that it bounds between subverting social mores and finding a kind of equilibrium of family and security. The dual wives scenario leads to plenty of implied transgressions and misunderstandings by hotel staff, who increasingly view Grant’s timid and wimpish character as a playboy. In many ways, it is often hard not to view him in this way, considering how accustomed we are to his suave persona in Hitchcock’s work. On the other hand, he is such a wonderfully astute and flexible performer that these contradictions immediately wear away. Dunne too is wonderful, playing a less wild romantic than someone like Katherine Hepburn, for example, but still inventively and endearingly getting her husband back.

My Favourite Wife lacks the mastery of form displayed by some classic comedies, yet its uncompromising silliness as well as the unmatched charm of its actors make it a blistering success.


Available to watch on: BBC iPlayer


CAST: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, Gail Patrick, Scotty BeckettAnn Shoemaker, Mary Lou Harrington, Granville BatesDonald MacBride

DIRECTOR: Garson Kanin

WRITERS: Leo McCarey, Samuel Spewack, Bella Spewack, Garson Kanin, John McClain

SYNOPSIS: A recently remarried man starts having second thoughts after the wife he presumed was dead returns from a remote island.