Others may love Irene Dunne for her skill with pathos: I Remember Mama, Love Affair. Fair enough: the woman sure could summon convincing tears. But for me, Dunne admiration is all about the comedy. Not the frantically paced Theodora Goes Wild, but those sophisticated films that beautifully negotiated the line between humor and pain: Together Again, My Favorite Wife, and the incomparable The Awful Truth.
My favorite of her performances is in The Awful Truth. In a pivotal scene, her skirt flipping-up dance (years before Monroe) to humiliate her ex is hilarious in part because she’s using his fling’s regular act to carry it off. What was upsetting to her (seeing his fling in action), has now become ammunition against him. But what really sells the prank is how far her performance is from her sophisticated persona throughout the film. (In fact, she’s so put-together in the movie that she matches even Cary Grant; in the opening scenes, her friends’ satisfaction about her marital fight is palpable–and understandable: At last! The perfect couple has problems!)
So while you’re going about your day, think about the actress with timing so impeccable and an air so glamorous that she matched the man who has become the icon of gentlemanly style and wit. And if you have a bit of time, watch her strategies to humiliate her spouse in The Awful Truth. With chemistry this believable, the two may give you a method or two for embarrassing YOUR husband/wife, friend, or family member. More likely, you’ll forget about holiday shopping or deadlines or to-do lists or your partner, listen to Dunne sing about wind, and just grin.