A movie about a couple in the midst of a divorce may seem an odd choice for an anniversary movie, but this is the antiromantic romance, marriage as ping-pong, and one of the preeminent screwball comedies. Director Leo McCarey and timeless stars Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are virtually without peer in handling sparkling dialogue. Even when they’re actively destroying each other’s lives in bouts of schadenfreude, they’re entertaining—and the characters (embodying 1930s Hollywood’s excellent idea of a healthy marriage) are just as addictively entertaining to each other, as well. The Awful Truth isn’t the choice for couples who want to moon at each other over candlelight, but if you’ve seen enough road to find laughs at each other’s expense, it’s essential viewing.
If you’ve been wondering why in this day and age, when Hollywood seems to be doing nothing but recycling old movies, no one has thought to remake Topper, consider this: it’s essentially a story in which driving drunk at breakneck speed around dangerous curves with your feet on the steering wheel of a convertible is seen as not just funny, but also as a paradigm for living the good life. Party animals George and Marian Kerby (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, bouncing screwball dialogue like Ping-Pong champs) become ghosts because of such antics, and they soon learn they’ve got a pretty short resume for applying for residence in Heaven. They set out to do a good deed: loosening up repressed bank president Cosmo Topper (Roland Young), who is henpecked by his propriety-conscious wife and who leads as dull a life as you can imagine. A kind of morality-tale act of retribution on Roaring Twenties hedonism, Topper is also completely 1930s in its battery of platinum blondes in slinky sequined evening dresses, men in tuxes and top hats driving roadsters, bankers in fedoras, and dancing in nightclubs.
A famous pre-nup crash and burn: Katharine Hepburn is the proud, self-righteous bride to be who wants to be knocked down from her pedestal (“I don’t want to be worshiped; I just want to be loved”); Cary Grant is the sarcastic ex who’s determined to make her feel guilty and stop the wedding; Jimmy Stewart is the class-conscious society reporter thrust into the maelstrom. General wedding-planning tizziness abounds. The comedy is high, and the racehorses in this stable all run in peak form—even if the thrust of the movie seems to be that women should forgive men their boyish faults, whether they include drinking, adultery, or just the pinching fingers of the slightly creepy Uncle Willie (Roland Young). Though overrated, this may be a good movie to watch before making or accepting a marriage proposal, if only because it stirs up every doubt and second thought you should have before tying the knot.