In a movie full of great scenes, the scene that starts this clip is my favorite.
First, we have Cary Grant’s confrontation with the butler at the door. He wants to go in, the butler will not let him. Cary Grant’s humor can obviously be quite broad and slapstick, but I also love his subtle moments, gone in a glance, but adding to the cumulative nature of how funny he is. For example, I love his response to the butler’s statement, “I don’t know if she’s here.” There is a brief pause, as Grant, cranky as ever, takes this in – he doesn’t move, he stands looking down upon his opponent, showing his little double chin that he always had- and after that briefest of pauses, Grant repeats, “What do you mean you don’t know?”, with a tiny cock of the head downwards showing his confusion and annoyance. Perfect timing. Perfect. Comedy is a weird thing. I cannot explain why the WAY he says is so funny, but I just know that it IS. It’s psychologically funny. Cary Grant’s psyche was always in tune with comedic possibility to a degree that still strikes me as utterly uncanny.
Then, we have the random jujitsu battle that occurs in the foyer. I love how Cary Grant just fearlessly goes down when he is attacked, in a manner both graceful and totally clumsy. He looks RIDICULOUS. He does a small squat-legged cartwheel, before falling face to the floor. It’s also funny because the butler has a kind of reluctance to “get into it” with him. He’s no Cato, lying in wait for Inspector Clouseau. He would really rather settle this peacefully. But a desperate moment calls for a desperate measure. It’s also funny how slowly Grant picks himself up off the floor, as though he has a hard time believing what just happened to him. He is embarrassed and pissed, but he doesn’t leap back up, fists flying. Grant always was willing to STEW in his own loss of dignity as opposed to bouncing back quickly, which is hilarious, coming from a guy who looks like that.
Then comes his retaliation which is equally as funny, because of how the butler goes down, splat, legs up in the air, without Grant even having to move his position. The fight intensifies until, of course, Grant bursts into the room, only to find that his wife is in the middle of giving a snooty opera concert to a pompous small crowd. Grant is best when he is placed in a position of wanting and needing to appear dignified and cool, but situations spiral out of his control until he, against his will, makes a huge scene. The following moments in this scene are the best example of that in his career.
And Dunne is no slouch herself. She is startled by her husband’s entrance, but she keeps singing in her flighty soprano voice, as he, in the back, tries to cover up his dismay at how wrong he has been. He had expected to find her in that Frenchman’s arms … and now he realizes what an idiot he has been, so he goes about trying to settle in peacefully in the back row, as though he meant to be there all along.
Naturally, it does not go well.
I have seen this scene countless times by now, and his fall – involving a chair and a small end table – continues to make me laugh, and still surprises me with how LONG it goes on. You keep thinking the fall will stop – it HAS to stop soon, doesn’t it?? – but then, no, it keeps going. It is a total disaster. I think my favorite bit is when he tries to grab hold of the end-table, hoping for some support, or to at least stop the progression of the fall – and a small drawer pops out, leaving him no leverage at all. This is dealing with the physical universe and all its chaos in such an ingenious and funny way – it looks totally unplanned, yet Cary Grant was a professional acrobat. These things are not just spontaneous – he planned them out. Again, his comedic sensibility probably honed right in on that small drawer: “Oooh, let’s work with that, that’ll be good.”
And finally: The capper of the entire scene is post-pratfall, and comes from Irene Dunne, who has been blithely singing all this time. During the protracted fall of Grant, you can sense her rising emotions, which she will express in the following scene: Dunne is tracking her own character’s development as any smart actress does. In the next scene, as she recounts to her aunt the events at the concert, Dunne suddenly starts laughing in the telling of it – it was such a beautiful moment for her, a realization that he really must love her, first of all, to behave like such a fool … and also, the sheer memory for her of how FUNNY the fall was. I love this movie because the characters behave in a funny manner, yes, but they also seem like funny people already. So Dunne watches her husband go through this fall in the back of her snooty concert, and it goes on and on and on … until finally it subsides, just as she comes to the end of the song. Dunne holds the last note, staring at her husband – and … perfectly … she laughs … almost on key … and then completes the song.
I don’t think I could fall more in love with her than I do in that moment that she laughs … and yet somehow incorporates it into her song.
Of course they have to end up together. Who else would put up with these two wackos?