It’s a romance that begins with a divorce. Lucy and Jerry Warriner suspect each other of affairs, so they file suit, battle for custody of their dog, see other people, and generally go wild. Despite the spectre of infidelities— real or imagined— Lucy and Jerry learn a surprising truth: that the only person they enjoy “fooling around with” is their spouse. How are all relationships a kind of performance? And how might finding a mate mean finding not just a co-star, but one’s best audience? Wes and Erin analyze the 1937 classic comedy of remarriage, The Awful Truth.
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Thanks to Nick Ketter for the audio editing on this episode.
Wes: So, Erin, I’ve known for a long time that this is your favorite movie or that it’s either this movie or His Girl Friday…
Erin: That’s right.
Wes: …and you… yeah, it was very early on in our friendship that you mentioned that, and mentioned your love of screwball comedies. I kind of thought I knew what a screwball comedy is but I realized I really had no precise definition of that and unfortunately, you know, my… the level of preparation I’m bringing to this podcast is that I looked it up on Wikipedia [laughter].
Wes: So maybe, you know, one of the things I want to figure out in talking to you is what a screwball comedy is and what attracts you so much to it and I think that’ll come out in this discussion. But I thought the Wikipedia entry had a very, kind of, heavy-handed way of putting it maybe, but…
Erin: Well, Wikipedia articles aren’t… [laughter] they’re not known for subtlety [laughter].
Wes: Yeah. [laughter] Right.
Wes: That depends, but… yeah. “Many secondary characteristics of the genre are similar to film noir,” which I didn’t know, “but it distinguishes itself for being characterized by a female that dominates the relationship…” which I didn’t really think of it that way “…dominates the relationship with the male central character whose masculinity is challenged. The two engage in a humorous battle of the sexes, which was a new theme for Hollywood and audiences at the time. What sets the screwball comedy apart from the generic romantic comedy is that (quote) ‘screwball comedy puts its emphasis on a funny spoofing of love, while the more traditional romantic ultimately accents love’.” That is a quotation from a book called Romantic versus Screwball Comedy. Charting the difference. Wow, that sounds exciting. [laughter] By Wes D. Gehring.
Erin: [laughter] Yeah, so It’s funny. I haven’t thought about this in a really long time, though. When I was in high school, I remember -this is embarrassing- giving a lecture series for my friends on screwball comedy. And I had a lot of theories about what this was and a lot of that has been… I think I haven’t thought about having to define that term in a really long time, so my definition now might be a little bit imprecise and not very well thought out. But there’s something here about the fact that the production code was put into full effect the year that the screwball comedy really, in its proper sense, originated. So in 1934 the Hayes Code Office in Hollywood, which was kind of censorship office that would ensure that there was not too much sex and violence on the screen so that people would not be… have their, you know, morality offended. This is considered by some people to be a bad thing, this censorship, and prior to 1934 these rules existed, but they were not enforced. So studios realized there was money to be made in having a lot of sexy situations on the screen and having a lot of violence and so, for as long as they could, they kept those things in place, even though they were technically not supposed to be there and this period…
Wes: So that’s why there is so much toplessness in early movies. So…
Erin: [laughter] There is some. There is some. There’s a famous scene in a movie called The Barbarian with Myrna Loy, where she’s actually wearing a kind of a body stocking, but it looks like she’s naked in a bathtub. I recommend it to all men who are interested in Myrna Loy.
Wes: I have actually seen that picture…
Erin: Or women. [laughter]
Wes: …but I’m not gonna tell you why but… [laughter].
Wes: It’s not that… it’s not that I googled… [laughs]
Erin: “Naked Myrna Loy”
Wes: Scanty, scanty photos of her. Yeah, but go ahead. [laughter]
Erin: Yeah, well, fair enough if you did, but… yeah. So those movies are called pre-code. Eventually, movie studios found themselves in a situation where they were going to have a boycott from different religious groups: catholics, protestants, jews, and they had to start enforcing the rules that they had put in place and in 1934 that enforcement went into effect and coincidentally that same year four very big screwball comedy movies came out. So what you have is a kind of a perfect storm, I think. You have the height of the depression and people wanting a kind of escapism, movies about people with a lot of money doing silly things. You have the subversion of the typical ways that you would express sexuality on screen more overtly, though never explicit, now had to be kind of pushed under the covers, so to speak. You have a real equality between the sexes that the Great Depression kind of brought about. I mean, the era of great screwball comedies went from ‘34 to ‘41 and there’s a reason why it ends abruptly with Pearl Harbor and that’s because, a more traditional, I think, gender-role reinforcement, if you will, happened…
Erin: …especially when men returned from the war and there was a lot of anxiety about men resuming their place in society and taking back the jobs they had given up and that women in these Rosie-the-Riveter types of positions had to assume while the men were gone. So there was this curious freedom, and then you also had, these tremendously talented women were all working at the same time and, a few, not as many, but several, tremendously talented men who made these really appealing screen comedies and who were extremely well-suited to each other. So that’s kind of a backward… that’s not really a definition of screwball comedy, but those are kind of the conditions in which this particular genre really flourished. I think that Wikipedia gets it right when it talks about the women being dominant and sort of superior. I think that the main struggle of these movies is maybe the recognition on the part of the man of ceding some of his own power or recognizing that he is not superior and in that recognition the two become equal, something like that.
Wes: Yeah, because that’s what gave me pause. Is it…? I didn’t really think of the females dominating the relationship with the male central character and I guess I’ve seen two now. I mean, I’ve seen some other ones in the past, but I could really, you know, recently just that The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday and that’s not the way it struck me exactly. It seems more equal and more of a… you know, because there’s so much ribbing between the characters, each of them gives out about as much as they take and until the very end of the movie in which the climax of this movie, which does involve the Cary Grant character, Jerry, sort of admitting that he’s been obstinate and that he needs to change essentially. But he can’t be the same if things are gonna go back to being the way they were [laughter].
Wes: We’ll discuss that whole speech at the end, ‘cause it’s so great. So I think that’s the kind of attention you’re getting at. You were thinking of some of the dominant aspects of the female character in terms of the… as a means to re-establishing equality. So I think that…
Wes: …that makes sense. I just think the word “dominates” maybe… you know, that’s what struck me about this Wikipedia definition, that seemed like it was phrased too strongly.
Erin: Sure, sure. And I mean “dominates” is much more brusque and… masculine than I think the women in these movies are. Yeah, I think in His Girl Friday… So you have Cary Grant in a position of authority in that film as the head of the newspaper.
Erin: And therefore people are sometimes bothered by that film, I think, because of the inherent power imbalance. Though, that superiority in terms of his work position is balanced by his admiration for Hildy and his willingness to be brought low and to do anything to get her back. I think in The Awful Truth, Irene Dunne’s character superiority is much more obvious and more evident. I think it’s obvious that she is intellectually superior, that she is more fun [laughter] in a lot of ways, that she is certainly more talented and that a lot of the beauty of that relationship is going to come from his properly appreciating her and his willingness to be as open and vulnerable to her as she is capable of being to him.
Erin: So that’s why I find The Awful Truth… I find both His Girl Friday and The Awful Truth, to be really similar films in a lot of ways, and to be very, very romantic films in a lot of ways, but I find The Awful Truth to be particularly romantic because you have this dream, [laughter] I suppose, of being properly appreciated by someone playing out, you know. I think this is a female fantasy, maybe, not to speak for all women, but this is a fantasy that women have of being properly appreciated and truly seen by a worthy man who understands you in just the way that you want to be understood.
Erin: And who recognizes, as all good men should in these types of relationships, [laughter] the superiority of the woman as a means of appreciating her. I think that’s kind of essential, right? The man has to be… I mean, it’s Cary Grant. So he’s already gorgeous, he’s already wonderful, and he… he then has to cede that power. He has to be as open and, shall we say, hospitable to life and love as the woman already is.
Wes: That’s interesting, yeah, because we get the… you know, the way the whole film is set up. It’s kind of strange because you’re… It’s set up in such a way that Jerry and Lucy are… seem to be given reason to suspect that the other one is having an affair, and with Jerry, you know, we don’t really know because he’s getting a fake tan, right, in order to pretend that he’s gone to Florida when he hasn’t.
Wes: So, what has he been up to? We never really find out. Maybe he’s just been taking a break from her and, you know, hanging out, or maybe he’s actually had an affair, it’s hard to tell. With her it seems it’s much clearer. I think, from the beginning, that Jerry suspicions of her are unwarranted, right? She just has a music teacher, and the car breaks down, and so she spends the night with him overnight, she’s stuck in with him for an evening, and so, you know. Early on, you get Jerry giving out sort of self-help advice right about marriage before Lucy actually returns, so he’s gone back to his apartment with a bunch of friends and a gift basket and finds that she’s not there. And he’s getting kind of egged on by his friends. They’re trying to… In a way they’re encouraging him to be suspicious and he’s resisting that, right? So he says: “That’s the trouble with most marriages today: people are always imagining things. The road to Reno’s paved with suspicions.” Now just imagine that in the Cary Grant accent. I wish I could do that. [laughter]
Wes: So, and, of course, then the way things unfold, it takes very little for them to decide to actually get a divorce, so he goes from a very… this defensive lack of suspicion to a divorce within minutes, you know?
Erin: Yeah, it’s kind of a projection on his part, maybe… and this is the indication we get that he is unworthy of her because she is actually telling the truth. He… I always read the scene as… he’s been taking her for granted or stepping out on her or something. That makes him inherently unequal to her, because… I mean, she, maybe, is taking him for granted too, because she’s out and about, but he’s left her behind for some reason. So you have this great opening scene where he’s preparing to play his role at the men’s club by getting the tan to match his character’s story, which is that he’s been in Florida. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t realize that she’s been reading about the terrible, rainy spells that they’ve been having in Florida.
Erin: And so when he comes to the house and sort of tells everyone how to read the scene, maybe, he’ll sort of come with an audience to watch the reunion of the happy couple, only Lucy isn’t there, and then he tells them, “Oh, she’s up at her Aunt Patsy.” He provides an alternate reading. But she’s subverted his expectations of the scene that he wants to play out when he comes home. And so then it seems that he’s mad and then when she comes home with this very, very old story of the car breaking down and having to spend the night with the music teacher, everyone else’s suspicions and his own inclination to craft a narrative out of suspicious circumstances goes into effect, and he immediately suspects her of having an affair. So there’s a little bit of a… kind of a swapping that happens where he comes in, trying to play something off as being not a big deal, and then he assumes that she’s doing the same thing.
Wes: Yeah, we were talking about mutual suspicion, and I was suggesting that if, you know, we went from a… Jerry’s idea that he was gonna refrain from engaging in suspicion to that quickly collapsing, you know, so Lucy returns with Armand Duval, the music teacher, and they have the story and there’s some joking around about… Armand jokes around that Jerry has a continental mind, which is meant to suggest… maybe it’s ambiguous, but it’s meant to suggest that he’s not going to be suspicious, you know, just because his wife is hanging out alone with another guy, I think maybe there’s a further suggestion that a continental mind means not caring, right, if…
Wes: …if the spouse steps out on you. So it’s ambiguous between those two things. We get a line from her about, you know, that you can’t have a happy married life if you’re always going to be suspicious of each other. That’s what interested me… it’s all this explicit talk of suspicion and how that’s not conducive to a good marriage before it actually wrecks the marriage.
Erin: So Jerry kind of projects onto Lucy…
Erin: …but also the idea that they’re reading this through these sort of established narratives, you know, they’re reading each other’s stories as stories and that cleverness also, I think, makes them really well suited to each other. So they know all this before, they’re wise to everything, right? [laughter]. So, he says, “how can I believe you? You know, ‘the car broke down’. People stopped believing that one before cars started breaking down”. You know, that’s an old story. And then she says: “Well, his car is very old” and he says: “Yeah, well, so is the story”. So they have this shorthand with each other because they’re very sophisticated, they’re very smart, so Cary Grant says: “How can you expect me to believe this?” almost as though what he’s reproaching her for is her lack of originality rather than the fact that she’s been stepping out on him.
Erin: And the way that they… but he’s also underestimated her because he’s, in turn, come in with his own story, expecting her to play the role that he wanted her to play, which is this simple wife who doesn’t understand that the husband has just gone to get a tan. In fact, she knows that it’s been raining in Florida the whole time.
Wes: Also, the tan looks really terrible.
Erin: It does [laughs].
Wes: It’s hard to tell, but… in the black and white it’s hard to tell, [laughs] but they get enough of the close up of him that it looks, you know, you can tell how bad it is and…
Erin: It looks fake. And it looks, you know, similarly fake or stamped with a false tan or whatever you want to say. He’s been stamped by the tan and then when he tosses her an orange, she sees that it’s been… or rather she picks it up from the basket and sees that it says it’s grown in California. So he hasn’t gotten her a Florida-grown gift basket. So they’re very… these are people who we know from the beginning are very quick, very sophisticated, and they know all the right angles and they know all the old stories and therefore it’s very difficult to actually deceive each other. And that’s part of the problem… it’s that they can’t really deceive each other because they’re both too quick. They catch each other in their deceptions, though, according to Lucy, she says: “Well, Jerry’s caught me in a truth”, and it seems there’s nothing less logical than the truth.
Erin: So she hasn’t actually been caught in a lie, but a truth that is suspicious because it seems like a lie because it follows the traditional narrative of such lies. [laughter] So that’s kind of the set up here and this idea just to take a step back for a second, that they’re engaging in these types of narratives, there’s a lot of references to different stage plays, there’s reference to different genres of performance… At one point, something’s going to be described as a two-men-in-a-bedroom farce. There’s some references to sort of like restoration comedy and, of course, to Shakespeare and various other tropes. So this story originated as a stage play, and it was adapted for the screen by Leo McGarry but much of it also was improvised on the set…
Erin: …which is completely unbelievable to me in a way because it has this poetry, this perfect balance between this feeling of complete spontaneity, which originates, you know… it comes by it honestly, because they literally were waiting on the set for Leo McGarry to finish writing that days pages to hand to them so that they could read it, so that they could say the words.
Erin: And a lot of it was Irene Dunne and Cary Grant waiting around while Leo McGarry waited for inspiration to strike [laughter] and yet it is so well constructed, so tightly wound, there’s so many rhymes and recurrences throughout the film that it has this clockwork -and the clock is even going to come in- clockwork kind of effect that it seems very, very well planned while also being spontaneous.
Erin: So it’s both kind of stagey and movie-like, it’s both improvised and very sort of tightly structured and these references and recurrences within it to the stage to film itself to the personas of the two actors and the two lead roles make it just as… every bit as sophisticated as its two main characters.
Erin: And that sophistication and self referential quality make this, I think to me, really the quintessential screwball comedy, for that reason.
Wes: I think I know one of the instances of self-reference where he and Lucy are singing Home On The Range together and he says he’s never taken a music lesson and asks her if she’s taken a lesson.
Wes: Which… she was known for singing, right?
Wes: So I think that’s part of the joke. What else is self-referential?
Erin: Really with Cary Grant, this is the building of his persona. So he was known for being very acrobatic, so there are a couple of… he was actually an acrobat, so there are a bunch of acrobatic little moments in the movie, which are very similar to previous movies that Leo McGarry did. It’s interesting. Cary Grant sort of borrowed his movie persona, what would become his movie persona up until the time of Notorious, when it got a little bit of a change, maybe Suspicion in ‘41. He borrowed his persona, basically from Leo McGarry. Leo McGarry was a director who actually even bore kind of a resemblance to Cary Grant.
Erin: He directed Laurel and Hardy movies. So that building of Cary Grant as being this incredibly elegant man who also is very adapted slapstick comedy, originates from this film. Prior to this, Cary Grant hadn’t really found his footing in the movies. So the slapstick elements and building that part of his persona is kind of this borrowing from Leo McGarry. He had also directed Duck Soup, the Marx Brothers movie and a bunch of other things which were vaudevillian, so this tension in Cary Grant between the ultra sophisticated and the slapstick is what the movie establishes. I suppose in terms of self reference with him than… doesn’t quite work, but I’m thinking of the constellation of movies that The Awful Truth spawned in the Cary Grant persona [laughter], which is in Bringing up Baby the following year. You have the joke about Jerry the Nipper, which comes from The Awful Truth… [laughter]
Erin: …and Cary Grant says to Katharine Hepburn, “she’s making this up out of motion pictures that she’s seen.”
Erin: [laughter] There’s the Ralph Bellamy… the dumbsap persona that comes up again in His Girl Friday. In hindsight, I mean, it’s kind of hard to divorce The Awful Truth from that. But I think what I’m thinking of is the Irene Dunne persona and the Leo McGarry persona, and then the kind of hall of mirrors of other movies, other stories, other plotlines that this pod contains.
Wes: Yeah, there’s a great moment in His Girl Friday. I already knew about it because you had mentioned it to me, but I laughed out loud when I saw it but it’s when someone compares, that the Ralph Bellamy character says that he looks like Ralph Bellamy [laughter].
Wes: So how do we connect the self-referentiality and some of this other background you’ve mentioned to what’s going on in the relationship in this film? The other line I, kind of, want to read, because it’s one of these… it’s after the bit where she said, “there’s nothing less logical than the truth. You caught me in the truth, and it seems there’s nothing less logical than the truth”. And he says. “Oh, you’re a philosopher, huh?”
Wes: And then, she’ll end up saying “There can’t be any doubt in marriage. The whole thing is built on faith. When you’ve lost that, you’ve lost everything,” which is a line that he’ll end up repeating near the end of the movie. But yeah, that sort of completes this early sequence in which the concept of suspicion and faith in marriage is explicitly talked about. And then they decided to get a divorce. What to me was very… It’s very abrupt. I think he says, “I guess the marriage has washed up, then, isn’t it?”, and he’s like, “Go ahead and divorced me then.” [laughter] And he agrees, and she calls the lawyer, and there’s that whole gag with the lawyer saying, “marriage is a beautiful thing” and… but telling his wife to shut up in between [laughter].
Erin: [laughter] Yeah, that was the… that was a late add-in by McGarry, I should say, too, because he was concerned that the abruptness of the divorce in the first scene and also, I guess, in earlier…
Wes: Oh, was he? Okay.
Erin: Yeah, in the early previews, people weren’t sure that it was a comedy because Irene Dunne had only made one comedy prior to this, and Cary Grant, as I said, wasn’t really a very established persona at that time. So they saw these people tricking each other getting a divorce, and they thought maybe this was going to be the set-up for kind of, like, you know, a weepy or things sort of going downhill…
Erin: …and both of them ending up in ruin or something. So McGarry inserted the lawyer telling his wife: “Will you shut your big mouth?” And so people started howling with laughter once he put that in, in later previews, and then that was the cue that this was supposed to be a comedy. And people got it from then on.
Erin: Yeah, yeah.
Wes: It’s interesting… you mentioned he was concerned about the abruptness of the divorce, and I think that’s what kind of the way I began this thinking about that abruptness… because to me it gave this all kind of dream-like quality. You know, you have it starting out with people in a way, almost wishing that they would not be suspicious, wishing that they could eliminate suspicion from their relationship and then it’s as if the opposite very suddenly happens. So it’s something like an anxiety dream where, you know…
Wes: …you want something, and then you’re immediately smacked for it, and that’s the way the divorce unfolds to me because of the way it sort of happened so quickly. To me, it’s not really meant to be realistic. To me it had that surreal quality that sets up the rest of the movie as having this… I don’t know, it’s just a dream-like almost free associative feel to it.
Erin: Yeah, that free association that’s really good. To me it’s like improvisation. It’s like someone has introduced the theme of [laughter] of divorce, and then they have to carry it out, they have to… It’s like jazz to me. Someone has started this train of thought, and then they have to pick it up and go with it and see where it plays out. And we learned, though, that that kind of improvisation or that kind of spontaneity or kind of coming out of nowhere was actually at the origin of the romance too. Because in the very next scene, when they get a divorce, we learn that the whole reason why they got married in the first place was because of a dog that they both saw, Mr Smith, their dog, Smitty, who they fought over and then it seemed like well, the thing to do was to give the dog a proper home [laughter] because they met at a pet store. They each saw the dog, wanted it, thought that the other was going to try and steal it from them, and so they decided that they were just going to get married and give the dog a good home until now, when they get divorced.
Erin: That whole story too makes the whole thing seem a little bit unbelievable and a little bit silly, because how could it be that these two people who are so perfectly matched with each other just happened to meet in this pet store and see each other and then happened to decide that they were going to get married and give a home to this dog. [laughter] The whole thing is a little bit wacky.
Wes: And this kind of speaks to the class element in the film. There’s something…“superficial” is not the right word, but it’s almost like there’s a lack of real tension which we don’t really see ‘cause it all starts with tension on the screen but it’s almost as if that’s the background and that that’s somehow associated with the sort of tensionlessness of not having to worry about any material problems because of one’s wealth. Like Jerry, do we find out whether he has a job or what he does? [laughter]
Erin: No, I think they’re then idle rich.
Wes: There’s no… We never find out… Yeah, they’re the idle rich. So we never find out if he has a profession of any kind and…
Erin: He does have a coal mine that he hasn’t been very successful with.
Wes: [laughter] You’re right but it doesn’t matter.
Wes: Yeah, it’s just like a thing that he has. And we know that she sings and her husband doesn’t seem to really know much about that right. If he knew more about that, he might be less suspicious about the music teacher but, you know, he might know that it’s possible that she’s at a recital, or it might have been to that before, but in a way it’s almost like that’s the secret. The secret is not that she’s having an affair. The secret is that she has this thing that she’s doing with her time instead of just being an idle rich person. The reason why I bring all this up is the talk of suspicion in the beginning, and then the dream-like free associative unfolding that follows that, it’s almost like it’s trying to answer the question of whether suspicion can be entirely eliminated from a relationship. And I associate in my mind suspicionlessness with a complete lack of tension in the relationship and then therefore maybe a complete lack of desire, which in turn I associate with the lack of material worries involved in being really wealthy. So they’re dealing with a sort of tensionlessness, and it’s almost like the tension actually has to be introduced into the relationship to deepen it and so the very act of having a divorce is, in a way, an attempt to save the marriage, strangely enough.
Erin: Well I think you’re getting at something that’s really essential about these comedies of remarriage, which is, you know, something has gone wrong, which may just be a kind of placidness [laughter] in the relationship and that the act of divorce is the act of livening things up a little bit…
Erin: …and therefore saving the marriage exactly. But we get, maybe, the most unlikely of people to help them in their… on their “road to Reno” as they call it. We get Dan Leeson who is, you know…
Wes: And his “ma” [laughter]
Erin: And his “ma” [laughter]. So one of the things that makes this my favorite movie is how unapologetically snobbish it is. And from the very beginning, this Dan Leeson character we know is not equal to Lucy, basically, purely because of the fact that he’s corn-seed. He’s… [laughter]. He has a ranch and he’s from Oklahoma and he’s from Middle America, and she is from New York and therefore superior to him, New York and Connecticut, I suppose. So the…
Wes: Which makes him really superior. So…
Erin: Right, really superior, in the way that only people from Connecticut can be. [imitating accent]
Wes: That’s right. [laughter]
Erin: [laughter] But anyway, now, the snobbishness of that and how openly it wears it, like when Aunt Patsy, Lucy’s older aunt who she gets an apartment with after her divorce from Jerry, says: “Oh, do tell me more about Oklahoma,” like she can’t even bring herself to say the word. [laughter] And Lucy confuses it with Arizona but the idea that this is a flyover country, it’s not a metropolitan area, and therefore it might as well be Arizona, it makes no difference to her, and her sort of crinkling her nose when she says she doesn’t get out there very and that she just shakes her head like she has no interest in Oklahoma or anything about this guy. So then why would he be the person she throws herself at in the rebound from Jerry? Except for the fact that he, according to Aunt Patsy, is the only available man that they have run into in the five minutes since she got divorced [laughter] or since she started divorce proceedings, they’re not even divorced yet.
Wes: I mean, we don’t get the sense that it’s any kind of ploy by her, maybe I’m wrong about this, you could talk about it.
Erin: No, no.
Wes: It’s not a ploy, she doesn’t quite know what she’s doing with this guy. So maybe this is like, this is part of the improvisation, right?
Wes: She’s letting things unfold. She could, of course, have turned him away and it seems like that would be more immediately consistent with her character, right? Just say, “All right. This guy’s… Yeah, I’m not dating this…” “Hillbilly” is not the right word. “Yokel”.
Erin: Yokel. That’s it.
Wes: Yeah, so it’s not a ploy but it’s also… it seems to me she’s also not simply acting and completely in character. It’s somewhere in between where she’s letting something new unfold to see how it plays out. So that’s one of the things I found really interesting about the film, which is that it’s not like either of them are trying to get back together with each other in any explicit way. I think she is towards the end, right? But in the beginning, they are sort of unconsciously exploring that possibility. I mean through the whole thing, you know, for the very moment they have the divorce, it’s all an exploration of the possibility of having a relationship again, and even their entanglements with other people. With him, it’s like… What’s her name? Pixie…
Erin: Dixie Belle Lee.
Wes: Dixie Belle Lee [laughter]. So they both end up with the southerners or, I don’t know, is it Oklahoma, the south? They both end up with yokels of a sort, simpler people. But in doing that, even that, in a way, is an exploration of each other and the meaning of their relationship and the possibility of re-establishing it… Not, again, not as a ploy, not as, “hey, we’re trying to get back together”, or one of them is seeking out the other, and that… so I found that really… that part of the film is really fascinating.
Erin: Yeah, that’s a great point. I was thinking too, now that I’ve replayed the film in my mind, as I can do it well [laughter], because I’ve seen it like 40,000 times. So Dan Leeson comes into Lucy and Aunt Patsy’s apartment only at the invitation of Aunt Patsy, as they’re looking for someone to take them out that evening because they need a male escort, and providentially, or not so providentially, or both, Jerry shows up to… for his visitation rights with Mr Smith, the dog, and he not knowing, I think, that they’ve just temporarily kind of bumped into each other, reads the scene again in a certain way, he’s reading this as this is Lucy’s new beau, who she has immediately hooked up with. So the way he reads the scene she will play with, she will live up to his expectation. So she immediately becomes more interested in Dan, obviously, is a way to make Jerry jealous, but now she has to… it’s like he’s made a demand on the scene by choosing to read it a certain way, and she now has to carry out that demand by actually being interested in Dan Leeson.
Wes: Mmm… Interesting.
Erin: Yeah, and playing the role of the woman who has moved on. Basically…
Wes: I see. Yeah, I wasn’t thinking about that, but that’s a very good point.
Erin: The inadequacy of him is, I think, papered over by the fact that he’s an attractive man or he’s supposed to be an attractive man -I find him very unattractive. But, you know, later she’ll mention something about his attractiveness and… or why she finds him interesting. And Jerry will say, “Yes, I’ve seen him”, so, and she said, “Well, I can’t possibly interpret this as jealousy” So…
Wes: [laughter] An obvious way the movie could have gone is that she would be actively trying to make him jealous, right? And my point is that I don’t see that. So even though she’s enjoying it, the jealousy, and she’s…. both of them are playing around with that, that’s not really her project, and she’s not just cynically using this guy, using the Leeson character. She’s actually exploring that possibility and she’s curious… I mean, she is curious about how Jerry is gonna react to that and maybe hopeful when it comes to sparking jealousy in him, but it’s not… my reading of the film is that this is not all manipulation to make Jerry jealous.
Erin: No. But in a way, this is his kind of comeuppance. I mean… so the fact that he’s been gone somewhere and not having fun with her as he should be, because she seems like a fun person. So he’s out having fun and wants to get away from the little wife and the fact that he doesn’t know about her singing, he hasn’t been very involved with it, means that he’s not paying her the attention that she obviously needs to be paid. Maybe she’s not manipulating him so much as seeing that this is a way to get the kind of attention that she is going to require in order for the marriage to write itself. So he’s going to be interested in her only in a very realistic way, only insofar as she becomes the object of interest for someone else and therefore makes him realize what he’s been missing out on, the fun inherent in her. The only problem is that she has no fun with Dan whatsoever [laughter], and immediately we know that this is very wrong, because Aunt Patsy, who’s thrown them together in the first place but only because they needed an escort, reproaches Lucy and says, you know, “I didn’t expect you to get silly about him”, and she defends herself. Now she’s in this curious position of, “Well, this is the role in which I have been cast, and now I have to play the role of a person who is interested in Dan Leeson.” So she says something like, you know, “is there anything wrong in liking a man who’s sane and considerate? I was married, one to who was insane and inconsiderate”. So she finds a way to justifiably play this role, which is, well, he pays attention to me and Jerry didn’t and therefore that is going to hold me to this guy for the time being [laughter].
Wes: Right. I love the way that [laughter] Leeson’s good naturedness kind of offends them. It’s just hilarious [laughter], because Leeson will say, you know, “I’m in oil” and it’s the aunt who says, “marinated, so to speak”.
Wes: Then he just [laughter] guffaws and guffaws and says, “That’s a good one”. And the dog… what I love the most about that is the dog growls [laughter] and Lucy has to kind of put her hand over the dog’s mouth [laughter]. So, his simplicity is obviously, you know, is a send up of his lack of sophistication and his simplicity. But, you know… But what has he done there, really? He’s violated an upper class norm, which is that he has reacted to a kind of dry witticism, as if it were a laugh-out-loud, grabbed-my-stomach kind of joke.
Erin: Right. So he laughs a second time when Cary Grant is talking about the dog and says, “I don’t think he’s getting enough exercise. He has circles under his eyes” [laughter], which is a joke, because the dog is, you know.
Erin: And so Dan laughs and then Irene Dunne shakes her head at him and says, “No, no, we don’t laugh at that”. So he, unlike Cary Grant, who comes in and reads the room and figures out the situation even if it’s the wrong read, he’s engaged in this process of sophistication and understanding what a moment requires, or what the typical way a scene plays out is. Even though Irene Dunne has been very aggressive towards Cary Grant in the scene and is obviously unhappy that he’s here, Dan doesn’t understand that it’s not the proper thing to laugh at the joke that the ex-husband, who has come in and inserted himself improperly into the scene, has made. So he’s incapable of understanding how to read the room, [laughter] and the…
Erin: And even Aunt Patsy, I think, shakes her head at him. His cluelessness and lack of sophistication is because he doesn’t understand the… maybe, the story that is embedded in the relationship between these two people, which is that they don’t like each other, that he’s there to see Lucy, and he should not be laughing at anything the ex-husband says.
Wes: And in a way that’s related to not being tuned into status as much and not being tuned into the ways in which certain witticisms are actually barbs.
Wes: And actually, kind of, are… actually represent an attempt to undermine the status of another person. So he’s not getting some of the… and I’m not gonna say “subtext” [laughter].
Erin: No, do! It’s part of our drinking game.
Wes: [laughter] That’s right. Maybe we should… maybe it should be a requirement that we have to say it at least once in each episode, but…
Wes: And when we say that he’s not reading the subtext [laughter] of the exchanges well and one level like, as you’ve pointed out, he’s not tuned into the relationship between Lucy and her soon-to-be ex-husband and the level of hostility in that but it’s kind of parallel to not being tuned into the sorts of things that you get tuned into when you’re part of the upper class and play these upper-class-status games. It’s interesting to me…
Wes: …that those two… those two things go together. But I think I’m gonna also put a bookmark in this idea that you brought up, of knowing when to laugh and when not to laugh or how much to laugh, because that’s also one of his sins, right? He doesn’t get that, and it seems like it’s possible that that is part of a dilemma of any relationship… is knowing what to laugh at and what to… Some things you laugh at, some things you fight back, you know, sometimes you actually have to fight back, sometimes you don’t just laugh at someone’s witty banter, you come back with your own, for instance, it’s not just laughing, but it’s actually retaliation. And we’ve talked about this, of course, in other… episodes, in Much Ado, but you have to know how to retaliate, in a way, not just be a doormat.
Erin: Yeah, their level of sophistication involves a kind of… the movies own meta-commentaries, but also Lucy and Jerry’s ability to see a kind of a funny meta-commentary in everything that goes on with them. So this is, I think, gonna lead us into the my-dreams-are-gone-with-the-wind section, [laughter] which is just one of the most clever things in any film, I think, where they go to a nightclub and there’s this very silly, serious -supposedly serious- dance number that this Dixie Bell Lee engages in, where she is singing a song called My Dreams are Gone With the Wind, and as she says the refrain, a wind effect from underneath the stage blows up her skirt, [laughter] and everyone in this nightclub is sitting there like this is a delightful… I mean, I guess this is a parody of these types of nightclub acts that used to go on in these New York nightspots. Everybody is okay with this, and in fact, Dan Leeson is getting a little bit of an erotic charge out of it, [laughs] out of seeing this woman’s, you know, little bits and pieces of this woman’s underwear until the final moment, when the gust will be too strong and her… [laughter]
Erin: …her skirt will go all the way around her ears.
Erin: The hilarious and really truly remarkable moment of this is the fact that Jerry and Lucy both understand what is incredibly silly, and we are watching them watch the performance, and we’re watching their discomfort as we watch them watch Dan watch the performance, or watch each other watch the performance [laughter] and…
Wes: They know it’s in bad taste, right?
Erin: They know it’s in bad taste, yes, but nobody else seems to.
Erin: Nobody else around them does. Everybody else is kind of… it’s difficult to look at anyone else in that scene, but I have had occasion to re-watch it, and everyone else is just smiling rather benignly and staring at this woman doing her number.
Wes: Actually, I might be wrong about that, and maybe it’s just because he’s embarrassed by the fact that it’s his date that’s giving the performance and she’s embarrassed for him or something. I don’t know.
Erin: Oh! But also she’s…
Wes: She’s embarrassed that Leeson is enjoying it, right? Yeah.
Erin: Yes, yeah, but also just they’re more sophisticated than everybody else who’s also in New York and at this nightclub and sophisticated because they see something that other people don’t, which is that this is just in very poor taste.
Wes: Okay, so maybe they’re slumming it with their dates in this situation.
Erin: No, I think it’s supposed to be a very nice nightclub, but just that they’re even more sophisticated than the very nice nightclub.
Erin: I think that is the thing that joins them is that they recognize how ridiculous it is and therefore, in watching this, the movie is paying us a compliment because we understand why this is so silly. So we’re just as sophisticated as these two very sophisticated people, [laughter] but Dan takes it for what it is. It’s so uncomfortable to me because I have to call him Leeson. I can’t call him Dan because Dan was my grandfather’s nickname. Anyway…
Wes: Okay. [laughter]
Erin: [laughter] My grandfather’s name was Donato, but everybody called him Dan.
Wes: And Leeson, incidentally, is spelt lesson, right? L-E-S-S-O-N.
Erin: I think it’s L-E-E-S-O-N.
Erin: So I always took that as he had a temporary lease on Lucy until… [laughs]
Wes: Okay. All right. Yeah, that’s… so I don’t know what I was reading, where it was. Maybe I just misread it, but yeah, that makes more sense. I mean, you could make sense of “Lesson” as well as… and there’s an irony in that, but yeah.
Erin: Oh right. Yeah, well, I think you’re reading it in a way that I didn’t realize.
Wes: No, it’s a mistake, but yeah, Leeson, Leeson. Yeah, that works very well. [laughter]
Erin: So, Lucy and Jerry see… they have a sense of irony and ironic detachment. So when it’s over, Dan asks Lucy to dance and they go on to the dance floor and the music changes to something that’s kind of like a jitterbug-type or foxtrot-type rhythm, and Dan has been bragging that he’s won a lot of cups at dancing. He has a really high opinion of his own abilities. So when the music changes, he decides to engage Lucy in this hyper-athletic [laughter] dance, which is really calling attention to itself, and so there’s this great moment where Cary Grant is really enjoying the display that they’re putting on and meanwhile, Irene Dunne is extremely embarrassed by this, but she has to play along because she’s not going to be ungalant and walk away. And then she sees Cary Grant watching the two of them dance and realizes that she has to act more into it than she actually is, so that she doesn’t reveal that she’s not into this guy. So there’s this great moment where he pulls up a chair and watches them and so we just get the shot of him, you know, smiling at us, the audience, as he’s watching them and, yeah, it’s just a great… That whole sequence is so wonderful.
Wes: Yeah, it really is. I’m thinking here again of the class element and what kind of sins are being committed here and the way they might relate back to the relationship and in this case, well, you know, with Dixie’s singing and the whole… the wind coming up and there’s that kind of conceit of being an exhibitionist, but pretending that one’s exposure is merely accidental, which is a staple of social life, right? People will wear things that expose enough to be attractive or sexy or something like that but if you go too far and you call attention to that, that suddenly is a form of vulgarity, so you don’t do that. And then, in the case of the dancing, you know, it’s about restraints. So a lot of class dynamics are about how much you express yourself, how much affect you express, whether it’s on your face, in your mannerisms. There’s an element of restraint that connotes being upper class. You see a lot of that level of restraint in their relationship, even when they’re zinging each other because they do it in such a high level. You know, they’re not ever in a really knockdown, drag-out fight, right? You know, there’s nothing like a scene in which a working-class couple, irritated with the guy’s blue collar job, and her taking care of the kids, and they’re out of money, and they’re angry at each other, and they’re yelling at each other, there’s no… there’s none of that. So it’s all very restrained and high level, but that is part of what their relationship actually suffers from, this level of restraint and this lack of self expression and, of course, her leanings towards music are, I think, a way to try to transcend that. Part of what, I think, is being… I’m thinking out loud here, by the way, so this could all be [laughter] nonsense, but, you know, part of what they seem to be searching for is some new mode of self-expression that is not vulgar but gets him closer about being vulgar.
Erin: So how would her singing play into that? That’s really interesting.
Wes: She in… in a sense, she does… You know she wins him back in the end by I don’t know if “when” is the right word, but steals him back by going in sabotaging his relationship with Miss Vance. What’s Miss Vance’s first name..?
Erin: Barbara Vance.
Wes: Barbara Vance. She re-does this song and dance routine that Dixie Belle Lee did and there’s no real wind effect, but she sort of [laughter] invites them to understand that there would be a wind effect and that her dress would be…
Erin: You’re just gonna have to use your own imagination about that.
Wes: Yes, yeah, I love that. And there’s obviously something about that which is reparative or which is winning for him and so there’s a suggestion that this earlier vulgarity, which they have dabbled in and with these other people that they’ve dated, actually does have to get incorporated into their relationship in some form. And so she is enacting that. I haven’t thought this through. I’m just exploring these possibilities.
Erin: Well, the funny thing about that ending scene, Jerry has chosen himself a far more appropriate romantic partner in Barbara Vance than Dan Leeson is for Lucy, right? I mean, she’s the same class as him…
Erin: …it seems, and therefore we would think that she would be as sophisticated as him and that the milieu in which she is involved is, you know, just as sophisticated as… It’s part of Jerry and Lucy’s mutual world but actually, I think that that scene reveals something that makes Jerry and Lucy so well suited to each other, even within that mutual society of these high class elite. So Irene Dunne comes in and plays the role of Jerry’s sister and tries to act in a way that is extremely goche and that will needle [laughter] Barbara Vance and Barbara Vance’s family, who are all assembled [laughter] in this big room…
Erin: …and there’s like a ton of people in that room, and she only is introduced to her parents.
Wes: And there’s super snobs by comparison.
Erin: Yeah, yeah, super snobby, and so she decides that she’s going to like puncture Jerry’s balloon basically, by going in there and pretending that Jerry is basically like new money or that he might be a gigolo who’s trying to entrap [laughter] Barbara Vance because, she says as soon as he was doing better… you know what I mean? [laughter]
Wes: [laughter] Right.
Erin: …and so she implies that Jerry has been sending her to Europe on the promise of marrying a rich woman and that Jerry is not, in fact, rich himself, which of course he is. So she puts on this show where she basically pretends to be Dixie Belle Lee or puts on this act where she pretends to be this nightclub singer and there are, like five different levels [laughter] of what’s going on here. So she comes in and she’s pretending to be drunk. So she thinks that everyone in the room, including Jerry, believes that she is drunk, and that is sort of giving her permission in front of Jerry to be acting this way. And so then she’s acting goche for the purposes of the Vance family, to make them think that Jerry is some Johnny-come-lately-to-high-society, some gigolo who’s trying to ensnare Barbara.
Erin: And so she’s putting on this show for them but then she’s also sort of putting on the show for Jerry to get Jerry to laugh or to think that this is extremely funny [laughter]. So she’s… successfully breaking up the relationship but she’s also successfully amusing Jerry, because even as he is embarrassed by what she’s doing, he’s also laughing at the fact that she is skewering these people and ruling Barbara out as an appropriate relationship for Jerry, because she understands something about how funny this is that nobody else in the room does. And so even as he’s really embarrassed, kind of covering his face, he’s smiling, and you could see the admiration that he has for her in this moment. The idea that he couldn’t just hook up with any wealthy high society woman and be happy. He has to hook up with this particular woman who can make this high-level, high-concept, ironic meta-joke in the middle of this party and also kind of debase herself in this way while still winking and not debasing herself at the same time. Like it’s very, very clever how this comes to pass.
Wes: Yeah, it’s interesting that it’s an attack on the pretensions of these people, of these super snobs, and there’s the suggestion that there… he’s not gonna enjoy real intimacy with that. So in a way, he is an impostor, in the sense that he’s not actually suited to that. She’s a very different woman than Barbara Vance. Barbara Vance would never do that, [laughter] what she did. So there’s something more to them than their being rich and high society.
Erin: I think I attribute a lot of the weight of that to Irene Dunne’s clothes throughout the movie, which are… [laughs], which are so outrageous and sort of….
Erin: They’re fabulous, yes, but they’re not entirely in keeping with her very sophisticated character. So I think in those clothes…
Wes: Oh really? Okay.
Erin: …there is…. I don’t think so because they’re so outlandish and she doesn’t dress the way, for instance, Barbara Vance dresses. So, I think, contained within that, is the idea that someone very wild and outrageous is kind of bubbling beneath the surface and might break out at any moment and be just as crazy and ridiculous as her fur coat in that opening scene or her hat with that incredibly long feather in the courtroom scene, or what have you. Or the pants that she wears…
Erin: …in the two-men-in-the-bedroom farce, where they’re like too long and she keeps tripping over them. They’re like on the floor.
Wes: I didn’t really notice that she was wearing pants the first time when we watched this together and then I rewatched it today and I’m like, “Well, that was quite a strange outfit.”
Erin: Yeah, there’s a level of impracticality in everything that she wears, which is…
Wes: Is there a bell-bottom kind of thing going on with the pants, too or…? They flare out.
Erin: Well, there’s like a palazzo element, so they’re very wide and long. So when they hit the floor, there’s still another three inches on them that keeps going.
Wes: Right. Okay.
Erin: But yeah, not very practical, kind of like “the lock on the door,” as she says at the end. Not so very practical, but it’ll serve its purpose.
Wes: Right, right. [laughs].
Erin: So should we talk about that final scene, that very philosophical scene where they engage in a kind of a…?
Wes: Sure. Did you want to talk about the recital at all? ‘Cause I know that’s a favorite.
Erin: Yeah, so that is my all-time favorite moment ever captured on film, not to overstate it [laughter] but…. yeah. So there’s this moment when Cary Grant comes through the door and it expects to find Irene Dunne in an embrace may be, having an affair with Armand Duval, her music teacher, and instead what she’s failed to tell him or what she doesn’t want to divulge to him is that she’s singing in a recital at Armand Duval apartment. So as he enters rather unceremoniously into the room, everyone kind of turns around and looks at him, and she’s up standing by the piano singing a song called La Serenata, and he’s sort of ashamed and then tries to sit down, tries to sort of let everybody go back to what they were doing but his efforts to sit and to be quiet and not to make a disturbance are subverted by the fact that the furniture keeps falling out from underneath him [laughter] and he keeps knocking into things, and in this last moment he’s trying to steady this little side table that he’s knocked over and in picking it up, he just picks it up by the handle of one of the drawers, and then the drawer comes out all the way. So he’s just left there like holding this drawer and in the last moment of the song, she has this trill, this ornament, which becomes a laugh that she can’t suppress over him, making a fool of himself for her and that moment of her watching him, appreciating him and the silliness that he’s put himself through, which she in turn, will put herself through by doing the Gone-With-The-Wind [laughs] sequence…
Erin: …is just this moment of pure joy and appreciation, where she becomes merriment and amusement and song and laughter and brilliancy, all in this one beautiful, perfect moment and the ability to pull that off musically is extremely difficult to do.
Erin: So it’s also virtuosic. Yeah, it’s my favorite moment.
Wes: There’s a certain kind of grace to it, that a laugh can be something that’s completely uncontrolled, but it’s somehow incorporated into the song, the more controlled aspect… vocal aspect of singing.
Erin: And this is related, I think to Irene Dunne’s persona in film and what makes her such a curious film persona. I mean, she would be the first to say that she’s not as beautiful as Cary Grant and I’ve read some critics argue that it’s difficult sometimes even to say what she looks like because there’s something about her that’s so withheld and controlled.
Wes: Yeah. I agree, yeah.
Erin: Yeah. Part of her persona is this idea that she’s so inherently sophisticated that she’s never engaged all the way in any performance that she is giving. She’s so oddly centered in herself that she seems to be having this kind of joke with the audience, where she’s almost saying like: “Yes, I’m giving this performance, but there’s also this part of me that knows that everything that I’m doing is silly, and I want you, the audience, to know that I know that it’s silly.” [laughter]. She’s inside of and outside of her performances at the same time and so the fact that she gets to play this incredibly ironic character who you know, it’s a further complication in that my-dreams-are-Gone-With-The-Wind scene where she even improvised one line where Leo McGarry was telling her to do like a stripper bump, basically.
Erin: And she says, “I never could do that” because she tried to do what he asked and failed, so she just says that line, and he keeps it in the movie, which is her commenting on her inability to do what her director is asking her to do but also sort of like apologizing to the audience at the same time. So that control and that restraint and that incredible… just training and self-awareness, it’s like it all comes through in that moment, where she laughs and she is laughing in this way that is on the one hand, like extremely natural and seems improvised and seems to come from this place of pure, unadulterated, uncontrolled enjoyment. And yet, at the same time it is married with the specificity and the virtuosity and control of being bound to the music.
Erin: So it’s kind of her in a moment.
Wes: What interests me about this is that so he thinks he’s gonna find her in the arms of Armand. He thinks he’s gonna catch her in the act of something that’s no… would no longer be an affair but would have been an affair. You know, what he thinks it was an affair while they were married, so doing this secret thing, but the secret thing turns out to be her music and it’s kind of confusing…. We don’t know why, really, it was a secret, you know, I think, as you suggested, it’s probably his neglect. So that’s another interesting connection where your neglect of a partner can make their neglected aspects seem like a form of unfaithfulness because those neglected aspects seem like secrets, in a way. What’s happening in this scene is he’s getting incorporated into a part of her life that he had neglected or from which he was absent that was for some reason a secret of some sort. And then the question is: how does he get incorporated into that? Because that’s obviously something that didn’t happen during their marriage and, you know, it strikes me that there’s some sort of vulnerability required by him, and that’s reflected in the fact that he has to be… do all this slapstick stuff and engaging buffoonery and be laughed at and have the whole audience look back from her back at him and… So in a way it’s almost like he has to make a fool of himself of some sort in order to enter this part of her life and that was… it was the unwillingness to be that vulnerable that kept him out of that so that, you know, his suspicions about her having an affair turned out to be the position of invulnerability that he was trying to inhabit and had to give up if he was to have a relationship with her and in that whole scene sets in motion the reunion. He feels guilty about it, he goes to apologize to her and asks her to go for a drive, and there’s a renewal of obstacles to keep them apart but, you know, it seems like he has every intention of trying to get back with her at that point.
Erin: Right. Until he gets embroiled with Barbara and then we realize that, you know, Lucy is willing to make a fool of herself too, and to play this role, even though she had at the same time, maintains her dignity in a curious way, because we’re let in on the joke [laughter], so…
Wes: Right. That was very striking to me. I mean, I had this reaction when we watched it together before you’d even said this. It’s like she’s playing that part of the vulgar sister, but… and yet she’s still so classy in a way. So she can’t really be anything but classy.
Erin: She’s like champagne itself, you know? Like you can’t really… she sort of bubbling all the time, it’s very hard to pin her down and even that beautiful little romantic scene they have together where, at one point, Dan Leeson’s [laughter] love poetry for Lucy will….
Wes: Oh, god yeah.
Erin: …cause her to laugh, though it’s because Jerry is poking her in the ribs with a pencil. But his extremely bad poetry, where he calls her a “prairie flower”, and you just realize this guy doesn’t know who this woman is at all, [laughter] is gonna be contrasted with this moment where they have champagne to round out their romance, and she recites the poetry that he said to her to win her at the beginning of their relationship.
Erin: And that toast that he gave her and this idea that their life together has been this kind of like pure merriment, as you said at the beginning, that that sort of needs this like sour element to keep it from getting stale is going to turn out to be what makes the champagne flat. She still has to go and and win him while still maintaining her dignity in that scene, where she impersonates his sister so that the champagne kind of won’t be flat anymore, but she’s kind of like champagne itself, she’s ephemeral, she’s like music, she’s like all of these things that are hard to pin down.
Wes: You’re reminding me of the scene after Jerry barging into the recital, when she is sort of softened to him, so she’s talking to her aunt, and the thing that’s actually softened her was the side of him being goofy and tripping over the table and all that stuff and she says something like, you know, “he has a way of getting himself into scrapes,” and then she says, “We had some awful good laughs together”.
Erin: “We had some grand laughs together”.
Wes: Oh, is that what she says?
Wes: Awful good as… [laughter] it’s an interesting transposition. But… So I was thinking, I think I was thinking about that in the context of him tickling her and making her laugh at Leeson’s poem. In contrast, you know, as you pointed out to the way she’s actually touched by his poem, and it’s at the fact that you know when she recites it, and I’m sure you remember how Jerry’s poem goes by heart [laughter].
Erin: Yes [laughter].
Wes: Let’s hear it.
Erin: “Lend an ear, I implore you, / this comes from my heart. / I’ll always adore you / till death do us part.”
Wes: I don’t know. On one level, it’s not really any less corny than Leeson’s poem.
Wes: It’s just kind of the context in which it was delivered.
Erin: But it also doesn’t have any pretensions to anything else. I mean…
Wes: Yeah, yeah.
Erin: …she is the music maker, and he doesn’t have to fill that role, so he just has to speak from the heart, as the poem says…
Erin: …in order to be worthy of her and to show that vulnerability so she can take it for what it is and properly enjoy it because it doesn’t have this pretension of being something greater the way everything Dan does, like he has to brag about winning his cups. But what was meaningful to her about dancing with Jerry was that the two of them were dancing together, [laughter] not that you have to win cups at dancing in order to be worthy.
Erin: It was Jerry’s desire to win her rather than his desire to look big in her estimation.
Wes: All right, should we do the final sequence?
Erin: Yeah, so they end up in Connecticut. They end up going to Aunt Patsy’s cottage and I guess Lucy’s father is also there, so he lives there too, and the divorce will come into effect at midnight that night. And so they’ve gone up there, she’s made good on the promise of car trouble [laughter] that she had with Armand Duval by creating her own car trouble for Jerry and she to then get stuck at the cabin. Then she goes upstairs and goes into her bedroom, and he goes into an adjoining bedroom, which is connected by a door, which keeps opening, and at one point a cat will hold the door closed [laughter] in the moment that made you laugh out loud.
Erin: Anyway, he keeps sort of coming in, making excuses to, like, open the door or trying to get the gust of wind -again, wind- coming in, gets a gust of wind open the door for them. And finally, they have these series of conversations where they vow to be the same, but a little different this time and they have a kind of a philosophical little exchange where we know at all times exactly what they’re talking about, which is the sort of the brilliance of the dialogue. We know exactly what they mean, even though they basically just repeat the words same and different over and over and over again. “You’re still the same”, he’ll say to her, “but I’ve been a fool”, and so he sort of apologizes to her, he says: “You know, things were different except in a different way”. He explains that he’s redeemed himself and seeing the fact that she’s the only one for him and the fact that she hasn’t been cheating on him and the fact that he’s been taking her for granted a little bit, maybe. And she, in turn, is being very sexy in bed [laughter]…
Erin: …during this whole thing and basically trying to entice him. So the whole thing resolves in the form of this curious… but I was hoping that you would have some philosophical insight here into this idea of sameness and difference that they engage in, as a way to reconcile with the end.
Wes: Um… maybe I do, maybe I don’t. Let’s see. [laughter].
Erin: [laughter] Not to put you on the spot…
Wes: Let’s see what comes out of my mouth as I start speaking there, but… Well, I love some of this dialogue, you know, she’s giving this very seductive look from bed, and this is after the cat has been pushing the door closed, which is great, and then the door opens, and he’s been on the floor trying to look through the crack of the door [laughter] after she shoos the cat away. Then she said to him, “You’re all confused, aren’t you?”
Erin: And then he says, “aren’t you?”, and she says, “No”, and then he says, “Well, you should be confused because you’re wrong about things being different because they’re not the same. Things were different except in a different way.” Is that right?
Wes: It’s actually before the whole cat-holding-the-door-closed that she introduces all this stuff about “same and different”. So, you know, because [laughter] she says, “it’s funny that everything is the way it is on the account of the way you feel.” You know, “if you didn’t feel the way you do, things wouldn’t be the way they are.”
Wes: I mean, things could be the same if things were different. And he denies that he made them that way.
Erin: No “things the way you think I made them”.
Erin: “I didn’t make them that way at all. Things are just the same as they always were. Only you‘re the same as you were, too. So I guess things will never be the same again.”
Wes: “You’re the same as you were. So I guess things will never be the same again.” So the… you know, the relationship has fallen apart. The implication is that he has to change, if things are to be the same in the sense of going back to being the way they were and then them actually having a relationship. “So long as I’m different, don’t you think maybe things could be the same again?” This is him. And then she asked him if he’s not gonna have any more, any more doubts. So the thing that he actually has to change is his state of suspicion in the end, and that’s it.
Erin: So the whole thing had rather an easy resolution.
Wes: Yeah. What has changed, meaning the circumstance, it’s not like he has the… you know, “you gotta stop drinking, you gotta get a job, you gotta be a better person”. It’s very simple, it’s that he has to change the way he sees her, and that includes giving up these suspicions, but I think as also you were pointing out earlier, she needs to be appreciated and seen in a different way.
Erin: Yeah, and part of that change has already been enacted by the plot itself, right? Like that’s the tonic that this relationship has kind of taken, so it really even requires no work on his part, except for the mutual recognition that they’re both now going to embark on this new way of seeing together. So the work of the break up of the marriage has already been accomplished. He sees her differently, she has become crazy and gone nuts and become sort of vulnerable for him and he has done the same for her. And then they can be happy together.
Wes: Well is that a good note to end it on?
Wes: All right. Thank you.
Erin: Thank you.