The Awful Truth

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The Awful Truth
theatrical poster
Directed byLeo McCarey
Produced byLeo McCarey
Screenplay byViña Delmar
Sidney Buchman (uncr.)
Based onThe Awful Truth
1922 play
by Arthur Richman
StarringIrene Dunne
Cary Grant
Ralph Bellamy
Alexander D'Arcy
Music byBen Oakland
Milton Drake (lyrics)
CinematographyJoseph Walker
Edited byAl Clark
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 21, 1937 (1937-10-21)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box officeover $3 million[1]

The Awful Truth is a 1937 American screwball comedy film starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. The plot concerns the machinations of a soon-to-be-divorced couple, played by Dunne and Grant, who go to great lengths to try to ruin each other's romantic escapades. The film was directed by Leo McCarey (who won the Academy Award for Best Director) and was written by Viña Delmar, with uncredited assistance from Sidney Buchman and McCarey, from the 1922 play by Arthur Richman.[2] This was the first of two films that Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy appeared in together, the second being His Girl Friday (1940) and the first of three wherein Irene Dunne starred with Grant, the others being My Favorite Wife (1940) and Penny Serenade (1941).

In 1996, The Awful Truth was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, having been deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Ralph Bellamy, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth

Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) returns home from a trip, which he falsely states was to Florida, to find that his wife, Lucy (Irene Dunne), is not at home. When she returns in the company of her handsome music teacher, Armand Duvalle (Alexander D'Arcy), Jerry learns that Lucy spent the night in the country with Armand, after his car, they claim, broke down unexpectedly. Lucy then discovers that Jerry did not actually go to Florida and that he had an artificial tan and had written multiple fake letters to her.

Their mutual suspicions result in divorce, During the divorce proceedings, Lucy moves into an apartment with her Aunt Patsy (Cecil Cunningham). She becomes engaged to a neighbour, Oklahoma Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy), while Jerry is seen on a date with singer Dixie Belle Lee (Joyce Compton). However, Leeson's mother (Esther Dale) does not approve of Lucy Warriner.

Eventually, Lucy realizes that she still loves Jerry and decides to break off the engagement. However, before she can inform Dan, Armand shows up at her apartment to discuss Jerry's earlier interruption of Lucy's singing recital. When Jerry knocks on the door, Armand decides it would be prudent to hide in the bedroom. Jerry wants to reconcile, much to Lucy's delight, but then Dan and his mother make an appearance. Jerry slips into Lucy's bedroom to avoid complications, but a fight erupts when he finds Armand already there. When Jerry chases Armand out of the apartment in front of the Leesons, Dan and his mother stalk out.

Afterwards, Jerry is seen around town with heiress Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont). To break up this relationship, on the night before the final divorce decree, Lucy crashes a party at the Vance mansion, pretending to be Jerry's sister. She acts like a showgirl (recreating a risqué musical number she had seen performed by Dixie Belle) and lets on that Jerry's father ("their" father) had been a gardener at Princeton University, not a student-athlete as Jerry had claimed. Realizing that his chances with Barbara have been effectively sabotaged, Jerry drives Lucy away in her car.

Motorcycle policemen stop them on the road, and Lucy, plotting to spend more time with Jerry, wrecks the car. The couple gets a lift to her aunt's cabin from the policemen. Once there, Jerry admits having made a fool of himself and the Warriners are happily reconciled, just before the clock strikes midnight.


Irene Dunne, Skippy and Cary Grant in The Awful Truth


The Awful Truth was in production from June 21 through August 17, 1937.[3] Grant fought hard to get out of the film during its shooting, since McCarey seemed to be improvising as he went along; Grant even wanted to switch roles with co-star Ralph Bellamy. Although this initially led to hard feelings, it did not prevent other McCarey/Grant collaborations – My Favorite Wife (1940), Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), and An Affair to Remember (1957) – from being made later.

The Awful Truth marked the first appearance of the uniquely effective light comedy persona used by Cary Grant in almost all his subsequent films, catapulting his career to worldwide fame. Writer and director Peter Bogdanovich has noted that after this movie, when it came to light comedy, "there was Cary Grant and everyone else was an also-ran." McCarey is largely credited with concocting this persona.

The film is one of a series of what the philosopher Stanley Cavell calls "comedies of remarriage", where couples who have once been married, or are on the verge of divorce, etc., rediscover that they are in love with each other, and recommit to the idea of marriage. Other examples include The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday and My Favorite Wife, all released in 1940 and all starring Grant; Love Crazy, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy; and the Noël Coward play and film Private Lives. The original template for this kind of comedy is Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.

Awards and honors[edit]

Film Daily named The Awful Truth as one of the 10 Best Films of 1937.[4][5]

Academy Awards[edit]


When McCarey won his Oscar for directing, he said he'd won it for the wrong picture, since he considered his direction of the melodrama Make Way for Tomorrow, also in 1937, to be the superior achievement.[6]



The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Other versions[edit]

There were two previous film versions of Arthur Richman's play on which this film was based, a 1925 silent version from independent Peninsula Studios, San Mateo,California with Warner Baxter in Grant's role, and a little-known early talkie made in 1929 with Henry Daniell and Ina Claire. The play was remade in color, as the 1953 musical Let's Do It Again starring Jane Wyman and Ray Milland.[4]

Radio adaptation[edit]

The Awful Truth was presented on Lux Radio Theatre September 11, 1939. Grant and Claudette Colbert starred in the adaptation.[9]


  1. ^ HOLLYWOOD SETS CAP FOR BIGGER FILM GROSSES: "Snow White" Already Nominated Winner Disney Picture Expected to Lift Producers Out of Doldrums That Have Hit Revenues Hard Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 26 Dec 1937: C1.
  2. ^ The Awful Truth at the Internet Broadway Database
  3. ^ "The Awful Truth (1937): ORIGINAL PRINT INFORMATION". TCM. Turner Classic Movies, Inc. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b TCM Notes
  5. ^ "The Awful Truth-One of the Ten Best Pictures of 1937". The Film Daily. Wid's Film and Film Folk. Retrieved 13 June 2016.
  6. ^ Gold, Daniel M. (July 16, 2016). "Film: He Could Be Sad As Well as Silly" (July 16, 2016). The New York Times. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
  7. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  8. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  9. ^ "Those Were The Days". Nostalgia Digest. 41 (3): 32-39. Summer 2015.

External links[edit]