Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Too Many Husbands


I can’t help wondering if the people at Columbia knew while they were making this picture, which was released in March, that across town at RKO they were lensing (as they say at Variety), for May release, My Favorite Wife, which is based on the same “Enoch Arden” premise? A man (or in the case of the other film, a woman) is stranded on a desert isle for some years, and returns to find his wife (or her husband) married to another. “Enoch Arden” ends tragically, but these movies were both screwball comedies. And there are comic situations galore in that situation, no question, especially given the morality of the day, when hotels still employed house detectives to terrorize unmarried couples who might get up to hanky-panky in their rooms.

Reversing the sexes has a big effect on how they go at this situation in both movies, though. In My Favorite Wife, Irene Dunne is clearly only interested in getting her husband (Cary Grant) back, and the second wife is given short shrift. We know she’s doomed. Here, after her initial shock and horror … Jean Arthur finds she actually sort of enjoys it. Both her husbands—who were partners in a publishing house—were workaholics. A romantic honeymoon, then back to the grind with little time for her. When Fred MacMurray returns from the island to find her married to Melvyn Douglas, both men suddenly find that, unless one kills the other, they are going to have to woo her all over again. It’s very funny watching these two guys showering her with attention, and figuratively beating their chests to show off their masculinity. And she just can’t decide. Each time she’s alone with one of them, that’s the one she wants for her husband. As Crosby, Stills, and Nash sang, “Love the One You’re With.” Of course it soon comes to the crunch of bigamy. Who will win? Well, the legal solution is fairly obvious, but that’s not the end of the story. In fact, it ends ambiguously, which I thought was a good way to wind it all up. Douglas and Mac Murray are great, and so is Jean Arthur.