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A day late and a dollar short

My Favorite Wife (1940) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Judge Walter Bryson (Granville Bates) in the LA Court of General Records wants to expedite his docket by first performing a marriage ceremony (“Let's get it over with.”) His clerk advises him that would be problematic with­out first declaring one Ellen Wag­staff Arden legally dead, before her husband Nicholas Arden (Cary Grant) can be wed in his court. The judge is flummoxed and has a hard time keeping his briefing papers straight—he is often reversed on appeal. He does the math and finds that Ellen indeed, after having been lost at sea, has been missing exactly seven years to this date, the legal minimum. He declares, “The law is clear,” she is “pronounced legally dead.”

Nick Arden as a lawyer should have known that under the law one cannot become engaged to some­one while being at the same time married to some­one else. How­ever, he is blinded by love—or is it lust?—and has fudged on the marriage license figuring it is easier to get forgiveness than permission. His soon-to-be bride Bianca Bates (Gail Patrick) while adjusting her make­up inadvertently flashes light in the poor judge's eyes. A mariner would have been reminded of the sun's angle throughout the day, changing as they pass through time zones, and ultimately that good old inter­national date line by which a day gets added or subtracted upon crossing it depending on which direction one sails. If the judge's reversal record and confusion of papers are any indication, Ellen has been missing seven years minus one day.

male diving off boardOkay, but how much can go wrong in one day? Plenty. Have you never heard of Murphy's Law? It goes, “If any­thing can go wrong it will.” Ellen Arden (Irene Dunne) shows up that very day at her home having been rescued by a Portuguese freighter. She meets her young son Tim (Scotty Beckett) and daughter Chinch (Mary Lou Harring­ton) who don't remember her; she doesn't want to traumatize them with a revelation. She surprises Nick, arriving on his honey­moon; he still loves her. He learns of a male companion Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott) who'd been stranded with Nick's wife on the island. Here, Stephen is the one with flawless timing when observed doing acrobatics off the diving board. “We've done nothing to reproach our­selves for these seven years,” he declares. Ellen concedes he's been a gentle­man. But they'd been referring to each other as “Adam and Eve,” and he's as buff as Tarzan. Hmm. Nick needs to sort it all out, and then some. He's determined, “I want to do the right thing by every­body.” A plaque on my wall lists Murphy's Law with several of its corollaries, one of which states: “If you try to please every­body, some­body won't like it.”


The judge isn't the only one flummoxed by these events. The children don't under­stand why their dog Corky, usually shy of strangers, is so friendly with the lady who suddenly showed up. Bianca complains to her mother that her new husband has been categorically avoiding her all through the honey­moon. The shrink she consults is whistling Dixie. Nick finds it hard to believe that nothing happened between his wife and “Adam” all those seven years. And Ellen wonders if she had not over­played her hand playing hard to get, to provoke Nick to decisive action. (Eccl. 9:1) “For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.” Only God, and the audience with their God's eye view, see what is going on, which is what makes it comedic.

(Eccl. 9:2) “All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.” Death comes to every­body whether he deserves it or not. The law makes allowances to declare a person dead after a seven-year no-show as that is a common lot. Insurance Adjuster Johnson (Hugh O'Connell) must allow for that.

(Eccl. 9:3) “This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” The suspicious hotel clerk (Donald MacBride) knows what kind of mischief people get up to while they can.

(Eccl. 9:4-6) “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” At Ellen's suggestion to the children that their mother might suddenly turn up some day, they are in complete denial. Once she is gone she is gone; there will be no coming back.

(Eccl. 9:7) “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.” Nick can enjoy some food at the Pacific Club, and vegetarian Tarzan eats his carrots, and there's room service champagne at the hotel. Knock your­self out.

(Eccl. 9:8) “Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.” Ellen on her return takes a much needed bath and puts on some of her clothes her mother-in-law “Ma” (Anne Shoemaker) saved.

(Eccl. 9:9) “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.” We hope that Nick can settle into a jolly reunion with Ellen and have a marriage that's happy and gay.

(Eccl. 9:10) “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Make the most of the time while you've got it, as if every day were Christmas.

Production Values

This romcom, “” (1940) was directed by Garson Kaninwith with some critical touch-ups by Leo McCarey after he recovered from an injury. It was written by Bella Spewack as based on an 1875 Alfred Lord Tennyson poem: “Enoch Arden.” It stars Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, and Randolph Scott. Dunne and Grant were a smooth working team. Best accolades go to the judge, Gran­ville Bates, for his wry humor. Also worthy of mention is Donald MacBride as the suspicious hotel clerk.

It's certificate was approved in the USA. and rated in Australia: PG, and in Canada: G (video rating.) Music included “The Skaters Waltz.” The very balance of its production makes it a pleasure to watch. It skirts dicey material with­out getting crude.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This was an enjoyable comedy from beginning to end. The child actors did okay, and nobody over­played his part. McCarey expanded the judge's role to make it more entertaining. This one is a winner.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for all ages. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Special effects: Well done special effects. Overall movie rating: Five stars out of five.