Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941): Hitchcock’s Screwball Comedy, Starring Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery

Hitchcock directed Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a screwball comedy written by Norman Krasna, and starring Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Smith moviep.jpg

Original theatrical release poster

Hitchcock later claimed he directed the film—the only comedy in America—as a favor to Lombard, but RKO files show that he also pursued the project.

Norman Krasna’s idea of Mr. & Mrs. Smith (originally titled of “Who Was That Lady I Seen You With?” and “No for an Answer”) was pitched Lombard, who then sold it to George Schaefer of RKO.

Ann (Carole Lombard) and David Smith (Robert Montgomery) are a married couple in New York City who, though in love, have numerous disagreements.

One morning, Ann asks David if he would marry her again if he had it to do over. Although he is very happy with her, he says he would not, because it would mean losing his independence.

Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard

 

Harry Deever (Charles Halton), an Idaho county official, informs David that, due to a jurisdictional mishap, their three-year-old marriage was not valid. As a family acquaintance of Ann’s from Idaho, Deever tells the same thing Ann and her mother (Esther Dale).

Ann believes he will remarry her that night, when he invites her to dinner at their favorite restaurant they used to attend. As the restaurant has declined in quality, they return home.

Growing impatient, Ann accuses David of not wanting to marry her again. David protests that he was going to ask her, but Ann kicks him out of their apartment.

David spends the night at his club, and the next day, he’s refused entry into his home. Waiting in the lobby, he sees Ann with an older gentleman, assuming he is her new suitor (he’s her boss). Angry, he intercepts Ann, threatening to withhold financial support.

When David gets her fired from her job, Ann declares no intention of marrying him. David’s friend and law partner, Jefferson “Jeff” Custer (Gene Raymond) promises to change her mind. However, later on, he learns that Jeff will legally represent Ann.

When Jeff asks Ann to dinner, and afterwards, they to the  New York World’s Fair, where they get stuck on the parachute. Back at Jeff’s apartment, he plans to put on dry clothes and return to the fair, but Ann feeds the teetotaler “medicinal” liquor ostensibly to prevent a cold, and gets him drunk.

Ann and Jeff decide to take a vacation with Jeff’s parents at  Lake Placid skiing resort; the same resort where Ann and David had planned a holiday. Upon arriving, they find that David has rented a cabin next to theirs.

David pretends to be sick while Ann fawns over him. When Ann discovers his deception, she becomes furious. While arguing, Jeff walks in, and Ann manipulates him into fighting David.

Ann wants to get away to the lodge by ski, though she does not know how to ski. David offers to help her, but instead makes things worse.  She struggles, freeing one foot, then feigns helplessness by reattaching the ski. Realizing her pretense, David silences her with a kiss.

The material is rather thin–and flat–for a farce, containing only few humorous moments.

Hitchcock was never happy with the result and was later dismissive of it.

Hitchcock Cameo

Hitchcock can be seen passing Montgomery in front of his apartment building, walking from left to right and smoking a cigar, as the camera pulls back, at about 43 minutes into the film.

Lombard directed Hitchcock in this brief scene, forcing him to redo it until she was satisfied.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith was the last film released before Lombard’s death. To Be or Not to Be was her final film, released two months after she died in aircraft crash while on War Bond tour.

Sounds of a toilet flushing were altered to banging pipes due to censorship; Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960 was the first to show toilet, and in close-up.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith made a modest profit of $750,000.

Cast

Carole Lombard as Ann Krausheimer Smith
Robert Montgomery as David Smith
Gene Raymond as Jefferson Custer
Jack Carson as Chuck Benson
Philip Merivale as Ashley Custer
Lucile Watson as Mrs. Custer
William Tracy as Sammy
Charles Halton as Harry Deever
Esther Dale as Mrs. Krausheimer
Emma Dunn as Martha
Betty Compson as Gertie
Patricia Farr as Gloria
William Edmunds as Proprietor at Lucy’s
Adele Pearce as Lily
Emory Parnell as Conway

Credits:

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Harry E. Edington
Written by Norman Krasna
Music by Edward Ward
Cinematography Harry Stradling Sr.
Edited by William Hamilton

Production and distribution: RKO Radio Pictures

Release date: January 31, 1941

Running time: 94 minutes
Budget $743,000
Box office $1.4 million