Could Hitchcock do comedy? He could certainly be funny, time and again he demonstrated his ability to bring comic elements to dramatic films. But when it came to pure comedy his only attempt so far in his career…wasn’t funny. But that was over a decade ago. It was time for him to try his hand at directing a screwball American comedy in the footsteps of Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940).
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (almost entirely unrelated to the plot of the 2007 Brangelina spy comedy of the same name) stars Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard as David and Ann Smith, a New York couple who have been happily married for three years. But after a fight with David and the discovery of a technicality that means their wedding was never legally binding, Ann decides that maybe the single life is better after all. She kicks her not-husband out of their apartment, gets a job and begins courting a Southern lover called Jeff (Gene Raymond). In true Rom Com fashion, it’s up to David to try and win back her heart.
Lombard, who was also a good friend of Hitchcock’s, holds the film together. Her energetic and fiery delivery coaxed a couple of chuckles out of me and I got one good proper laugh at her wonderfully world-weary expression at the top of a broken Ferris wheel.
She was known as the Queen of Comedy in the ’30s and she more than proves her worthiness to the title with her ability to milk some gags out of this flimsy script. Tragically, this was her penultimate film. She died a year later in a plane crash.
Lombard aside, there’s really not much to recommend. Her comic counterpart, Montgomery, does an adequate job but – once again – he’s not working with much. His role is essentially an underdeveloped modern version of Petruchio from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as he tries to stomp out his wife’s wild temper. There’s even one moment right at the end that’s a bit (how do I put this?) domestic-abuse-y.
The last five minutes aside, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is inoffensive; it’s just not very funny. Despite Lombard and Montgomery’s best efforts the characters aren’t especially likeable, there’s weak pacing throughout and you’ll find more sparkling wit in five minutes of The Lady Vanishes than in the entire running time. But you can’t blame Hitch for trying something different.