Turner Classic Movies is spending A Night at the Opera on Saturday, March 7. The frothy Wife, Husband and Friend is one of the less well known films in the program and I literally just saw it this week and rushed off a short review/overview in time for the film’s showing. It’s a forgettable little ditty of a light comedy starring Loretta Young as a socialite who wants to sing professionally and Warner Baxter as her working-class-guy-made-good husband who wishes she would just forget the whole thing, and runs a brisk 75 minutes of complications that could have been avoided if they would actually be honest with one another.
Warner Baxter wasn’t known as a light comedian but he acquits himself well as the street-smart lug turned successful businessman. He’s as cultured as a bum at the ball and looks like a thug in a tuxedo when he delivers his first recital, slouching and scratching himself while serenading an audience of swells with the voice of an angel. Offstage he’s a typical thirties chauvinist and is downright condescending to his wife’s dreams, but his direct manner and snappy wit is a refreshing breeze through the stultifying air of snooty, condescending social manners and upper-class arrogance. Loretta Young, a Hollywood class act of dignity and elegance, plays Doris as the embodiment of the dreamy society woman who runs on pure emotion and impulse, and essentially plays straight-man to Baxter’s practical manner. (The role was, reportedly, originally to be played by Myrna Loy, perhaps in hopes to recreate the magic she had created opposite William Powell.) They are an unlikely couple but the affection they exhibit for one another is palpable and makes the romance work.
The terrific Binnie Barnes made a career of tough-minded dames and other woman roles and is in excellent form here as Cecil, working her seductive smile and bedroom eyes on Leonard, who is nervous at best and oblivious at worst, much to her consternation. One feels the mighty power of the production code in the way that director Gregory Ratoff (who directed Ingrid Bergman in her American debut in Intermezzo the same year) and screenwriter/producer Nunnally Johnson (who adapted James M. Cain’s short story “Two Can Sing”) effectively scrub most suggestions of infidelity out of the film. Romero, whom one expects to make a pass at his star pupil, is left to largely skulk through the background of Wife, Husband and Friend.
Read the entire feature on TCM here.