I Was A Male War Bride

I Was A Male War Bride (1949)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Cary Grant, Ann Sheridan, Marion Marshall
Extras: Trailers, News Reels, Photo Gallery

Cary Grant never officially made a film with director Billy Wilder, notwithstanding Tony Curtis’ impersonation of the star in ’Some Like It Hot.’ (Wilder and Charles Brackett were uncredited writers on Grant’s 1947 fantasy ’The Bishop’s Wife.) However, Grant frequently collaborated with director Howard Hawks and his 1949 comedy ’I Was A Male War Bride’ displayed all the rat-a-tat wit, sexual tension and topical satire of any of Wilder’s films.

’Bride’ takes place in post-WWII Germany. French Army officer Henri Rochard (Grant) is assigned to a secret mission alongside American WAC Lt. Catherine Gates (Sheridan). The two have met before and already share a rocky romantic history with each other. They constantly spar and parry with each other’s nerves which means they fall in love and get married. That’s the easy part; the difficulty is getting Henri back to the states with Catherine when she has to return home to the U.S.A.

On the surface, ’Bride’ appears to be nothing more than a frothy battle-of-the-sexes romp with Grant and Sheridan trading barbs during their road trip through the post-war landscape. Looking deeper, the film emerges as a highly focused satire, skewering gender roles (from the outset, Gates is in charge of the relationship, down to literally being ’in the driver’s seat’), the bureaucratic labyrinth (Rochard’s military designation as a ’war bride’ keeps bouncing him around) and — in the film’s ultimate money shot — even requiring Rochard to disguise himself as an actual ’bride’ in order to satisfy the Army’s fanatic devotion to ’orders.’ (The credits list ’Story by Henri Rochard,’ the same name as the protagonist. Why do I get the feeling that the screenplay is somewhat biographical?) Typical satiric jab: when Rochard arrives at the American HQ and has to decipher the alphabet soup of military department acronyms, he mistakenly thinks that ’L-A-D-I-E-S’ stands for another office — until a woman walks out! Oh yeah, there’s isn’t even an attempt to saddle Cary Grant with a French accent.

Fox Home Entertainment has just released ’Bride’ on DVD as part of a quartet of Cary Grant films from the studio. The full-frame black-and-white transfer looks quite good, with a sharp picture and balanced grayscale. Contrast gets a little dark at times but even the sheen of Grant’s horse-tail wig (!) comes through nice and detailed. The cover indicates Dolby Digital stereo and mono audio tracks. Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Both sounded clear and distortion-free. Actually, I couldn’t even hear any analog hiss or crackles.

Extras consist of a bunch of Cary Grant trailers, newsreel footage and a photo gallery. The ’Movietone News: Behind The Scenes in Germany MOS’ presents film snippets without audio, including Hawks directing a scene with Sheridan and Grant on location in Germany (where many of the authentic-looking exteriors were shot) and coverage of the Heidelberg premiere. (Apparently, the newsreel was never created.) The photo gallery is standard PR and on-the-set stills. Five trailers are for such Grant-at-Fox titles as the trailer for ’Bride’ (which doesn’t look and sound nearly as good as the feature presentation), ’Monkey Business,’ ’People Will Talk’ and ’An Affair to Remember,’ all presented in full-frame black and white, except ’Affair’ which is shown in non-anamorphic letterbox.

’I Was A Male War Bride’ mixes just enough sass with sentiment so that it’s aged well. Give it a spin on a rainy Saturday afternoon.