I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE—“I am an alien spouse of female military personnel en route to the United States under public law 271 of the Congress.” When that mouthful of justification gobbledygook is drily delivered by Cary Grant, you know you’re in for some good, old-fashioned humiliate-the-man comedy. With the ace-timing of Ann Sheridan as the bride…er…husband…er, mate, directed by Howard Hawks, laughs are guaranteed. Crowds in 1949 loved its star sparring and contentment complications, making it the year’s 5th most popular picture.
The script done by Charles Lederer, Leonard Spigelgass and Hagar Wilde arose from “Male War Bride Trial to Army”, an autobiographical article from Belgian officer Henri Rochard about the bureaucratic red tape he and his American bride (a US army officer) had to endure to get him from Allied-occupied Germany into the States as her husband. Keeping the names, having Rochard be French rather than Belgian, and wisely not having Grant force an accent, the farce—played straight, so the physical comedy is funnier—has the stars at their best, first bickering, then bonding, finally battling together in a war with regulations. At one key point, for a ruse Rochard/Cary does drag, and again (at Hawks smart suggestion) plays it dead-center rather than camping it up (ala Some Like It Hot). Sheridan’s natural spunk makes for a perfect foil, her marvelously genuine laugh is contagious. The decidedly offbeat setting of postwar Germany is almost secondary, and other than the locations themselves not much is made of it (how amusing could those conditions be?) other than its managed chaos works to frame the characters personal plight. And of course, that was where Captain Rochard and Lieutenant Catherine Gates ran their love gauntlet. *
Though Grant’s 4th of five times scoring under Hawks direction returned giggles and guffaws to the tune of $11,400,000, making it look easy was in fact a tasking endeavor. The shoot in Germany (in and around Heidelberg, Bremerhaven, Frankfurt and the 15th-century village of Zuzenhausen) and England stretched out for eight months, pushing costs upward of $2,000,000, mostly due to nearly everyone felled by illness; Sheridan hit with pneumonia, Hawks bedevilled by hives and Grant laid perilously low by jaundice and hepatitis, losing thirty pounds. Not only did the editors have migraines matching before & after footage, the frequently suggestive dialogue faced hurdles with the perennially blue-nosed censors.
With Marion Marshall (vivacious), Randy Stuart and in small parts character stalwarts Kenneth Tobey, Harry Lauter and Russ Conway. 105 minutes.
* Despite the hardships and shortages of essentials, one reason to film abroad was to make use of studio funds (in this case those of 20th Century Fox) that had been ‘locked up’ in European countries, desperate for cash after the war. This particular effort, though vastly different in tone from Germany-set dramas like Berlin Express or The Search was dogged not just by all the sick time, but dismal weather and stubborn crew disputes in Britain. Despite all, ‘can do’ came thru.