Cast & Crew
Roy Del Ruth
On the one-year anniversary of their divorce, T. H. "Randy" Randall and his ex-wife Valerie dine together in the restaurant where they fell in love. While dancing with Valerie, Randy, who ruined their marriage by loving his race horse more than his wife, is arrested for not paying her alimony. Thrown into jail, the desperate Randy concocts a plan with his attorney, Bill Carter, to end his alimony payments and therefore his financial woes by marrying Valerie off. As soon as he is released, Randy tries to match up his dull friend, Paul Hunter, with Valerie, and succeeds in getting the two to join him on a trip to wealthy socialite Ethel Hilary's Duck's Point estate. Ethel, though quite an eccentric herself, thrives on entertaining interesting people at her home, such as yoga afficionado Mr. Dicky Brown. Ethel extends her hospitality to all, including a dashing man she has never met before named Freddie, who arrives uninvited. Freddie instantly becomes infatuated with Valerie and woos her with an evening serenade of her favorite song. The next morning, Ethel, who heard the lovely music from her room and believes it was Randy's song to her, thanks him for it. When Randy discovers that Valerie has spurned Paul in favor of Freddie, he reprimands her for her poor treatment of his friend and insists that he, not Freddie, escort her to a picnic. However, when Randy's car has a flat tire, Valerie is provided with an opportunity to resume her romance with Freddie, who drives by and exchanges his passenger, Ethel, for Randy's. At the picnic, Valerie keeps Freddie at bay until she can coax a marriage proposal from him, but is shocked when she learns that he is married to another woman. Though Freddie promises to divorce his wife, Valerie turns her back on the lothario and packs her bags. Randy wants to re-marry Valerie, whom he still loves, and panics when it appears that she will be marrying Freddie. When Randy proposes to Valerie, she finally hears the words that she has wanted to hear for a long time and eagerly accepts his proposal. Her excitement is brought to an abrupt halt, however, when Bill, not realizing it is Randy and not Freddie that she is marrying, tells Valerie that Randy will be happy to see his "plan" end in success. Hurt and angry that she should be taken for granted and that Randy was only motivated by his financial difficulties, Valerie decides to marry Paul. Ethel gladly makes the arrangements for the wedding at Duck Point, but chaos ensues when two grooms appear to take Valerie's hand in marriage. Furthermore, the ceremony takes place during a radio broadcast of the horse race in which Randy's horse, "Ajax," is racing, and Bill and Randy's excitement spreads throughout the wedding party until the ceremony is completely disrupted. Valerie, forced to choose between Paul and Randy, decides to remarry Randy, and the two are overjoyed when Randy's horse wins the race.
Roy Del Ruth
Elisha Cook Jr.
Charles D. Brown
James B. Clark
Joseph C. Wright
Darryl F. Zanuck
He Married His Wife
The "he" of the title is horse racing mogul T.H. Randall (Joel McCrea). His preoccupation with--and incompetence at--the horse trade crowds out any other consideration. Valerie Randall (Nancy Kelly) has grown weary of perpetual also-ran status in her husband's life, and divorces him. Ironically, divorce provides her with the opportunity to force her way higher on his list of priorities: as he is now committed to a punishing monthly alimony, he can't help but think of her constantly. T.H. conspires with his lawyer (Roland Young) to end the alimony by getting Valerie married to someone, anyone--say, their mutual friend Paul (Lyle Talbot). The plan goes awry when Valerie snubs Paul for a flashy, oily gigolo (Cesar Romero), causing T.H. to realize he cares about something much more than horses or alimony...
When He Married His Wife opened in 1940, the New York Times called it "on the hairebrained and whimsical side, and if you are like-minded there is no reason why it shouldn't strike you as one of the season's less tedious offerings." Back-handed praise like this came with a tut-tutting admonition that it took no less than six credited writers (four screenplay, two story) to come up with the script--a dispiriting fact that pretty much every other reviewer noted as well.
The story shows the evidence of so many disparate creators--it is cluttered with bits of business and stray ideas that appear to be remnants of some previous draft, unfinished thoughts all. For example, the horse racing theme dominates the early scenes without building to anything specific, and the budget-conscious film never gets around to showing any horses. At the same time, the multitude of writers managed to come up with plenty of tangential incidents to show off the talented supporting cast.
For example, fitness-obsessed yoga-nut Elisha Cook, Jr. shows up for no readily apparent reason other than to steal a few scenes, which is a feat given how much of the comic energy of the movie is commanded not by its leading players but by Mary Boland as the ditzy socialite Ethel Hilary. Boland's giddy performance seems to assume the movie is in fact about her, and given what a glorious force of nature she is, it might as well be. She steamrolls her way through the film, with an endless supply of restless, over-sexed non-sequiturs. The bulk of the story takes place at her elegant retreat "The Duck Pond" (Boland offers various, increasingly incoherent, explanations for why it is called that).
Cesar Romero is predictably smarmy as the uninvited playboy--although Valerie's conniving manipulation of him is less expected. Lyle Talbot is arguably best-served by the proceedings, getting the opportunity to play against type in a role seemingly written with someone more like Charley Chase in mind. Talbot looks like a manly man, all muscles and self-confidence, but the character of Paul is written as an overgrown boy, way out of his depth in matters of love and sex.
In addition to the comedy talents filling out the cast, the production team had their own bona fides. Producer Raymond Griffith was a veteran of silent slapstick, and had been a serious rival to Chaplin and Keaton back in the 1920s. His director, Roy Del Ruth, also came from the silent slapstick tradition, having gotten his start directing the likes of Harry Langdon and Billy Bevan for Mack Sennett.
The overcrowded writing staff is an odd jumble of former qualifications. Top-billed writer Sam Hellman did not specialize in comedy, and would later come to be best known for his work writing Westerns such as My Darling Clementine (1946) and The Return of Frank James (1940). Darrell Ware had more experience writing comedies, but predominantly in the less distinguished B-movie realm (such as 1939's Charlie McCarthy, Detective). Lynn Starling had more notable comedy writing credits, including the 1937 romantic comedy As Good As Married whose alimony-based plot prefigured He Married His Wife. John O'Hara had no previous writing credit, and Erna Lazarus' sole previous credit was collaborating with fellow story-author Scott Darling on the 1937 drama Atlantic Flight. Darling's CV was dominated by B-thrillers, such as Charlie Chan movies.
Arguably more important to the development of He Married His Wife than any individual contributor was a certain curious zeitgeist. In 1940, a cluster of screwball comedies came out in rapid succession that by accident or design shared a common thread: they were comedies about divorced couples getting remarried. This is not to say they were about divorced couples falling back in love, because these comedies were all predicated on the idea that their couples never stopped loving each other. Their marriages, divorces, courtship, and remarriage are all defined by conflict and combat, but they never fell out of love. This curious subgenre produced the likes of The Awful Truth (1937), The Philadelphia Story (1940), My Favorite Wife (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), That Uncertain Feeling (1941) and Palm Beach Story (1942) before petering out, but sandwiched in amongst these more familiar titles is He Married His Wife. Aside from Cary Grant's starring in four such divorce comedies, Joel McCrea became something of a fixture in this subgenre with two such films--an irony, given that Joel McCrea was one of the few happily married men in all of Hollywood. McCrea married Frances Dee in 1933 and they stayed together for 57 years.
By David Kalat
Leading Men: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actors of the Studio Era.
Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage.
William K. Everson, Hollywood Bedlam: Classic Screwball Comedies.
He Married His Wife
If you never saw him before, why'd you let him kiss you?- Bill Carter
Well, after all, Bill, there is such a thing as hospitality.- Ethel Hillary
According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, on January 31, 1938, executive producer Darryl Zanuck held a story conference, in which it was decided that the character "Hunter" had to be "changed completely" to be more like the character that Cesar Romero played in Happy Landing. Ann Sothern was suggested for the role of "Ethel" at the story conference, and Lyle Talbot was suggested for the role of "Carter." At a August 12, 1938 story conference, Zanuck complained that the major fault of the first draft of the continuity was that it was "treated as a cream-puff farce" when it should have been "treated as sincere and honest comedy-drama." Zanuck cited a number of films, including Wife, Doctor and Nurse (see below), Three Blind Mice (see below) and Alexander's Ragtime Band, as examples of good writing because they were "treated simply and honestly." Zanuck went so far as to suggest that writer Sam Hellman view Three Blind Mice again because, he said, it was "the type of treatment and attitude we want applied to He Married His Wife." A September 1939 story conference resulted in the changing of "Dickie's" character from a radical to a yoga lover.
A Variety pre-production news item indicated that Warner Baxter and Binnie Barnes were originally set for the starring roles in the film. Barnes and Baxter were starred in Wife, Husband and Friend (see below) together, and this film was referred to as a "follow up" to it. Although Baxter was eventually replaced by Joel McCrea, an April 1939 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the start of production on the film was held up due to Baxter's recuperation from an illness. Hollywood Reporter pre-production news items noted that Twentieth Century-Fox negotiated with Paramount for the loan of actor Charlie Ruggles, and that the Burman estate in Santa Barbara, California, was named as the site of location filming. Some scenes were also filmed at Hoover Ranch in Calabasas, California. According to a Hollywood Reporter pre-release news item, Lee Bowman was originally announced for the part played by Cesar Romero. Hollywood Reporter also noted that The Four Tumbleweeds and the jitterbug dance team Albert and Jilbert were to be featured in the picture, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Studio publicity material notes that this film was completed in thirty days, four days under schedule, and that Nancy Kelly was knocked unconscious during filming when she swung her dress, which had lead weights stitched into the hem, and it hit her in the head.