Funny, I hadn’t realized until just now that this was chronologically the very next project Grant did after Operation Petticoat, of which I had just written about. I suppose this is what you’d call synchronicity?
Now that we’re entering the 60s we’re starting to get dangerously near the end of Cary Grant’s acting career and one of the pressing issues in this period is the fact that Grant’s age is really starting to show in a way where you can no longer pretend he’s just slightly older than his female co-stars. Fortunately in this instance, unlike in Charade (1963) where the aged difference between him and his romantic interest and co-star Audrey Hepburn was a whopping 25 years, Grant’s matured age actually ends up benefiting the movie to a certain degree. For one thing his older look and gentlemanly mannerisms give his character, the Earl of Rhyall, a certain air of respectable aristocratic maturity and pride, which helps considerably to sell the idea that once his character learns that his wife, the Countess of Rhyall (played by Deborah Kerr), is having affair with a rich American oil tycoon, played by Robert Mitchum, the very last thing he wants to do is make a big scene about it or even let anybody know that he knows.
You wouldn’t think it possible but the movie actually manages to produce a surprising amount of good comedy out of the stretched out joke that Grant’s character is determined to keep up the pretense that he has no idea that his wife is having an affair with another man, not even after Mitchum ends up getting invited coming to stay with the Earl and Countess at their stately home for the weekend. Of course eventually the cat does have to come out of the bag, but until that point is reached it’s a very humorous and delightful comedy with plenty of nice gags and verbal banter. You could even say the movie is almost Hitchcockian in its slow burning intensity, reminiscent of Rope to be exact, where much of the psychological thrill and amusement comes from wondering just when and how the truth is revealed to everyone in the room.
Clocking only 104 minutes in duration, you easily find yourself wishing it was longer since the comedic interaction with all the participants in the love triangle (though with the inclusion of Jean Simmons’ character, who is the Earl ex-girlfriend, it technically could be said to be a quadrangle) is so damn engaging and amusing to watch. The setup is so delicious you don’t really want the movie ever to end.
You can sort of tell as you watch the movie that it is based on a play due to how verbal the comedy is. There’s very little physical gags, instead the focus is almost entirely in its bountiful amount of clever and witty dialog that is found throughout the movie. There is however one great extended skit in the movie that has a strong visual component to it. It involves the entire central cast having a telephone conversation together, with Grant and Simmons sitting in one end and Mitchum and Kerr on the other (while both Mitchum and Grant are trying to hide the fact that they have a female companion listening in on the call), and using the split screen technique to highlight the marvelous comedic dialog that takes place, specifically when two of the characters from the opposite sides of the line repeat the same line of heated dialog in unison as a reaction to something that was just said on the call, like when Grant invites Mitchum to his estate for the weekend.
I hadn’t really pegged Robert Mitchum to be much of a comedic actor due to his iconic tough guy image, but he actually does a rather fine job here as the comedic foil against Grant’s character. He does a remarkable job in making his character likable despite the fact that he’s the one who instigates and pursues the affair with the Countess, knowing very well she’s a married woman. While you might say his character is a bit of a one-dimensional since his presence is primarily to just be there as the guy who’s threatening to take the Countess away from the Earl, Mitchum is able to elevate the part with his magnificent charisma that the lack of depth in his character is not that noticeable. Mitchum also has really good on-screen chemistry with Grant and it really helps to spice the comedy up when both parties keep acting so cordially even when their rivalry over the hand of the Countess’ hand has escalated into having a pistol duel over the matter at the dead of night.
Although the light-hearted comedic approach to the subject of having an affair and possibly seeking divorce is rather progressive given the era (the Earl and Countess have kids after all), the ending itself ends up still being very old fashioned, as the Earl and Countess ultimately choose to remain together as a happily married couple. It’s a Cary Grant movie, after all. You don’t think he’d lose his wife, did you? It’s fine and all but I can’t help but to feel that going with a happy ending like that, even if the movie is a comedy, is a misstep. It would have been more interesting if they had amicable separated, with Grant possibly ending up together with his ex-girlfriend as a consolation prize so that it’s not a completely depressing conclusion. To me the happy ending simply ends up being too anti-climactic and sappy to work. Considering how the movie otherwise managed to be so fresh and unique little comedy about marriage without succumbing into any type of moralizing when it came to people having affairs, ending the story with such a predictable outcome can’t help but to be a bit dull. But that’s just my five cents. I’m sure most people would disagree.