I Was a Male War Bride (1949): Hawks’s War Comedy, Third Teaming with Cary Grant

Howard Hawks reteamed with Cary Grant for the 1949 comedy, I Was a Male War Bride, co-starring Ann Sheridan.

The film was based on “I Was an Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Law 271 of the Congress,” a biography of Henri Rochard, a Belgian man who married an American nurse.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

I Was a Male War Bride

Theatrical poster

Grant is cast as French Army officer Henri Rochard who must pass as a war bride in order to go back to the U.S. with Women’s Army Corps officer Catherine Gates.

Compared to their zany comedy of 1938, Bringing Up Baby, and their fast-paced smash hit of 1940, His Girl Friday, this is a low key screwball comedy and rather verbose.

In Heidelberg in post-World War II Allied-occupied Germany, French Army Captain Henri Rochard (Grant) is tasked with recruiting highly skilled lens-maker, Schindler (Martin Miller). He is assigned American Lieutenant Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan) as his chauffeur, much to their mutual discomfort.  The only available transportation is motorcycle, but due to Army regulations, only Catherine is allowed to drive; Henri has to ride in the sidecar. After several mishaps, the quarreling couple arrive at their destination, Bad Nauheim.

At the hotel, bothered by back pain, Catherine warily accepts Henri’s offer of a back rub. When she falls asleep, he tries to leave, but the door handle falls off, trapping him inside. He spends an uncomfortable night in a chair.

Unknown to him, the innkeeper’s wife has replaced the knob, so, when Catherine checks it, the door opens. Eventually, his wife comes to the room (forcing Henri to hide on the ledge outside the window) and explains everything, but not before Henri falls off the ledge.

Later, Henri goes undercover to search for Schindler, now working in the black market, but he refuses to let Catherine help him. The black market is raided by the authorities, and he is rounded up. Asked to vouch for his identity, she obeys his earlier order not to reveal that she knows him. While in jail, she finds Schindler, who is happy to leave Germany and ply his trade in France. Later, she apologizes to a furious Henri, and soon they have fallen in love.

Red tape forces Henri and Catherine to get married in a civil ceremony before they can choose their ceremony: Army chaplain (Catharine) and church (Henri). Before they can consummate their marriage, she is ordered to report immediately to headquarters; her unit is about to be shipped back to the US. The only way Henri can get a visa to emigrate with her is under the War Brides Act as the spouse of an American soldier. After misunderstandings, he is given permission to accompany her, but circumstances and regulations conspire to keep them from spending the night together.

Trying to board the transport ship, Navy sailors do not believe Henri is war “bride,” and he is forced to dress as female Army nurse to get aboard. The deception works, but once underway, his disguise is discovered and he is arrested.

In the end, Catherine manages to straighten out the situation, and they finally have some privacy – in the ship’s brig.

This comedy has become famous for its final sequence, in which Grant impersonates a female Army nurse.

The set up is far too long, but the combination of zany comedy and slapstick is successful, including a funny sequence with a door knob.  Sheridan is not the best partner for Grant’s physical antics and ease with delivering inanities; she’s more of an observer than an active participant.  The chemistry between them is not as strong as the one that prevailed between Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, or in Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story.

Filming began in September 1948 and lasted for more than 8 months due to illnesses contracted by the cast and crew. Sheridan contracted pleurisy that developed into pneumonia. and Grant came down with hepatitis complicated by jaundice.  Production was shut down for 3 months, until Grant recovered and regained weight.

When screenwriter Charles Lederer became ill, his friend Orson Welles wrote the short chase scene. The delay in production pushed the budget to over $2 million.

Commercial Appeal:

The film grossed over $4.5 million, making it Fox’s biggest earner of 1949. It was also Howard Hawks’ 3rd highest grosser, behind only Sergeant York (1941) and Red River (1948).

Cary Grant as Capt. Henri Rochard
Ann Sheridan as Lt. Catherine Gates
Marion Marshall as Lt. Kitty Lawrence
Randy Stuart as Lt. Eloise Billings (Mae)
William Neff as Capt. Jack Rumsey
Eugene Gericke as Tony Jowitt
Ruben Wendorf as Innkeeper’s Assistant
Lester Sharpe as Walter
John Whitney as Trumble
Kenneth Tobey as Seaman
Robert Stevenson as Lieutenant
Alfred Linder as Bartender
David McMahon as Chaplain
Joe Haworth as Shore Patrol
Gil Herman as Naval Officer
Lily Kann as Innkeeper’s Wife
Harry Lauter as Lieutenant
Alex Gerry as Waiter
André Charlot as French Minister
Russ Conway as Cmdr. Willis


Directed by Howard Hawks

Produced by Sol C. Siegel

Screenplay by Charles Lederer, Leonard Spigelgass, Hagar Wilde, based on Male War Bride Trial to Army Baltimore Sun 1947 by Henri Rochard

Music by Cyril J. Mockridge

Cinematography Osmond Borradaile, Norbert Brodine

Edited by James B. Clark

Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date: August 19, 1949
Running time: 105 minutes

Box office: $4.1 million