David and Annie (Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard) have been married for three years and, despite the occasional row (the most recent of which lasted three days, five short of their record) they are still very much in love. One morning Annie asks David if he would still marry her if he could go back and live his life again, to which he foolishly replies no, saying he would rather remain a carefree bachelor than marry anyone. Annie is understandably perturbed, but an argument does not ensue and the pair go about their days. A short while later, David is visited in his office – he’s a lawyer – by a man from the town he and Annie were married in, claiming that, due to a discrepancy over which state their church was actually in, the couple are not legally married. The notion amuses David, who delights himself in the idea that he is technically dating a single woman again, but his hesitancy to tell his then-wife-now-girlfriend may cost him the entire relationship.What we have here is Hitchcock dipping his considerable toes into the screwball romantic comedy sub genre, that was oh so popular around the time. The problem is, the end result is just not funny. There are moments of humour and the odd occasional comical setup – after the Smiths potentially break up, they each go on a date to the same location, wherein David attempts to make Annie think he is dating someone far prettier than he actually is – but eventually these scenes always fall flat, or were never funny to begin with. One bizarre failed attempt at comedy sees David’s business partner Jeff (Gene Raymond) having a private conversation with his parents in his adjoining restroom, but they can barely hear each other over the rattling pipes. Tell me, what exactly is supposed to be funny in this situation? Granted, the studio deemed Hitchcock’s original plan of their conversation being drowned out by a flushing toilet would have been slightly funnier, but it still would have fallen far short of actually raising a smile. Some moments seem funnier now more as a sign of the times than anything else – when Annie’s mother discovers her daughter isn’t legally married, she is appalled at the idea of her little girl having been living in sin all these years, but I don’t know how funny that would have been at the time.It also doesn’t help that both halves of the central couple are far from being likeable. Annie is a spoilt, stuck-up ice queen, whilst her husband is a cruel, floundering buffoon, and neither one makes any effort to change any aspect of themselves. At least by the end everyone is aware of the true colours of everyone else, and makes their decisions accordingly. The pair seem blissfully unaware of their privileged lifestyle, complaining when they return to a special restaurant from their past that has now become rundown, and is surrounded by a swarm of starving children, eyes wide and mouths agape staring at this couple able to afford a decent meal. I will admit that Lombard and Montgomery have great chemistry together, sparking off one another in the dialogue scenes, but also portraying a thoroughly believable married couple elsewhere too. This is most keenly felt when Annie is shaving David, requesting he make faces to make her job easier, and using his nose as a handle to reposition his head.This is definitely one of Hitchcock’s lesser works. I’ve not seen many of his out-and-out comedies, but if this is anything to go on then I shan’t be looking forward to the others.
Choose Life 5/10