Love Crazy opens with Steve Ireland (William Powell) singing along with It’s Delightful to be Married. The film reunites him with frequent co-star Myrna Loy, playing his wife Susan. Together in the Thin Man series, they showed screengoers how delightful it was to be married. Their chemistry combined with their characters’ mature relationship with each other stood out in an industry often selling new love. Love Crazy takes that wonderfully familiar chemistry and slightly alters the actors’ Thin Man personas and inserts them into a romantic, screw ball comedy. The film even borrows a plot point from the original source material of its theme song. It came from Anna Held‘s Broadway hit The Parisian Model. In it, her character pretends to be something she is not. Steve has to pretend he is legally crazy to save his marriage!
How did Steve get to that point? When the film starts, he’s revealed to be a devoted, romantic husband. He and Susan are about to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary. He has music and flowers ready. Combined with a nice dinner, that comprise the average man’s effort. Steve, being an architect, has grander plans. The couple’s anniversary ritual is to recreate their wedding night. It includes a four hour walk and canoe rowing. He’s just the sort of man that thought incorporating an “Eskimo” wedding ritual into his own would be great fun and make them legally married among the Eskimos. Because of his quirks and past partying, he’s the sort of man that will have difficulty convincing those familiar with him that he’s crazy. They’ll merely think he is tight. The man who likes to play has a harder time convincing others he has not reverted to his playboy ways when an ex-girlfriend moves into his apartment building.
Susan, “Honey Face,” seems like the perfect wife. Since Myrna portrays her, she’s beautiful in face, voice, and fashion. Her close-ups featuring that face framed by set curls don’t need to be shot using a haze lens to be dreamy. Her lilting voice charms, and her accent shows her character’s upper-class status. Her glamorous outfits enhance her stream-lined, yet womanly shape, and some of her gowns feature plunging necklines that might only be tasteful on her. Physically and in her character’s interactions with Powell’s (the “man who knew exactly what I wanted”), she embodies a healthy sexuality, made non-threatening by cinematic marriage. All these attributes alone would make female filmgoers want to be Myrna and thus Susan, even before Powell or Steve is taken into consideration. Her character is game for whatever fun her husband thinks up, even if it means celebrating their anniversary backwards.
Susan’s downfall is being too influenced by her mother, Florence Bates‘s Mrs. Cooper, and that woman does not like Steve. Susan has a temper, so when hurt, she’s not above seeking revenge, a trait that is exploited by her mother. It’s no accident she chooses to interrupt their wedding anniversary. She pops by bearing a gift wanted by neither spouse, a circular carpet that not only does not go with their hallway floor, but also it’s actually dangerous. The floor is so polished that to walk on the carpet is to risk injury from falling. It’s almost as though she has left a trap to dispatch her son-in-law. She should be awarded a gold medal in undermining. She observes and waits to ask prying questions to find fault and aggravate any situation. Her being an interfering busybody leads to a misunderstanding that almost results in her daughter’s divorce!
The movie follows the screwball convention of adding complication upon complication. Besides the meddling mother-in-law, there’s the previously mentioned ex-girlfriend, Isobel Grayson (Gail Patrick). She dated Steve immediately prior to him proposing to Susan, who has a very low opinion of Isobel. Susan doesn’t trust her. Susan shouldn’t. Steve has an elevator accident that provides one of film’s top visual gags. It even incorporates a dog for those missing Asta. Isobel happens to be present and takes him back to her apartment to recuperate, where she plies him alcohol and talks nostalgically about the “old times” and the “same old Stevie.” He resists her words and tickles(!) by saying “I’m married now,” and she quickly responds with “Well, so am I! What’s that got to do with it?” He answers, “You don’t stick to the rules.” Isobel and he have two different views of what marriage entails. His view matches her husband’s.
So what’s the catalyst for the disharmony ahead? The unwanted carpet! The Mrs. Cooper finally decides to do the right thing and leave the lovebirds to celebrate alone. Shades of The Man Who Came to Dinner as she goes to exit, she walks across her gift, slips, and twists her ankle. Susan has to take over her mother’s errand of picking up her aunt from the train station, which will take all night. Steve gets stuck with his mother-in-law that whole time. That makes for some anniversary! He can’t be blamed for escaping out for the evening, but he makes a poor decision of accepting Isobel’s invitation to go out. Susan doesn’t like that one bit when her mother tattles. She decides to pull her own prank and sets up a scene for Steve to walk into. She will make him and Isobel jealous by getting caught in a set-up scene with Mr. “Pinky” Grayson (Donald MacBride).
Of course, things don’t go as planned. This is a screwball comedy. She walks into the wrong man’s apartment. Ward Willoughby’s (Jack Carson) a world champion archer complete with athletic physique, and he thinks she’s pursuing him after seeing him in the elevator. What is it with that apartment building’s elevator inspiring possible romantic escapades? She thinks he’s Mr. Grayson. She’s surprised to find him in his undershirt practicing archery. When she confesses she’s waiting for her husband when he kisses her too enthusiastically, he suddenly fears a shakedown by blackmailers. He turns menacing, and her calling him Mr. Grayson makes him realize she’s in the wrong apartment. That’s his neighbor. He can’t help but be intrigued by this strange, beautiful woman.
When she leaves his apartment, she sees Steve and Isobel in front of the Grayson apartment. Pinky returns home, realizes who Susan is, and wants to know why she kept him waiting at his studio upstairs. He was not home. Is Steve leaving the Grayson apartment, or are Steve and Isobel returning from a walk? The implication being that if he was in his married ex-girlfriend’s apartment with her and without her husband present some monkey business must have been going on. Will Susan trust Steve or jump to conclusions her mother would encourage? Susan’s jealousy ploy works, and Steve wants to know what she’s been up to with those two men.
Later in Susan and Steve’s bedroom, they discuss the evening. Steve wants to be believed that he was on a walk with Isobel. She doesn’t want to be the “jealous type.” She asks for reassurance that her husband would never lie to her, and he responds, “Not on our anniversary.” Susan is amused by Steve wondering about her and Ward, and he wants to know why the other man was half-dressed. She tells him, “He has to have his torso free when he shoots his bow and arrow” “What kind of answer is that?” asks Steve. “He’s the world champion bow and arrower.” To that extraordinary sounding explanation, Steve can only respond, “You believe me, I’ll believe you.” A phone call soon shatters Susan’s belief in him. She no longer trusts him. Her mother has won.
We spend the rest of the movie watching Steve try to win back Susan. First he has only two months to change her mind before their court hearing. When she hides away that whole time, he’s forced to take desperate measures. The only way to postpone their divorce is to appear to be crazy. His gags get crazier and funnier, and while they fool no one who knows him, they will be a little too convincing for the authorities. Can Steve get out of a sanatorium? Can he prevent Ward from stealing away his wife? Can he convince her that nothing happened between him and Isobel? Can he win back Susan after all he’s done? Are you prepared to see Powell dressed as if he’s auditioning for Charley’s Aunt? Since the leads are played by Myrna Loy and William Powell, you likely will be able to answer before seeing the film!
The fun is watching how two film favorites play these love crazy fools and all the antics they get into. Because their characters are married and because of who plays them, the script can be a little franker about their sexuality and the possibility of adultery. The dialogue zingers reflect this, like when Susan and Steve talk about Isobel. Steve says, “She’s married now–got a husband.” Susan retorts, “Yeah? Whose husband has she got?” The film through comedy shows in an exaggerated way the pitfalls that could befall a modern marriage—lies, jealousy, meddlers, grudge holding, and outside interested parties. In providing us laughs and in reuniting the leads, we’re entertained and reassured. We’re reassured that despite the wacky situations they get themselves into they make it, so maybe our relationships can weather their more everyday ups and downs, too. The best romantic comedies always sell romance back to us.
This has been a very belated entry in the Romantic Comedy Blogathon, hosted by Lara from Backlots and Vince from Carole & Co. To read entries from day one go here, day two here, day three here, and day four here. I’m sure you’ll find many of your favorite classic film romantic comedies being celebrated!