“Say anything you think, and if you can't think of the right thing, I'll write it down for you." - Howard Hawks instructing Cary Grant before filmming a scene
I Was A Male War Bride (1949) Movie Trailer
I Was A Male War Bride - 1949 (Original Poster)
Released: August 19, 1949 Running time 105 minutes
Defining what distinguishes comedy from tragedy, Howard Hawks once stated, “The only difference between comedy and tragedy is the point of view.”
The point of view of many of Hawks’s comedies shows men being dominated by strong or eccentric women. He presses the comic values of this point of view by ratcheting up the man’s discomfort to extreme levels.
“I Was a Male War Bride” is a perfect example of this principle in action.
Cary Grant’s Captain Henri Rochard endures a string of indignities combined with emotional and physical discomfort in his relationship with Ann Sheridan’s Lieutenant Catherine Gates. Because he is not cleared to drive a US Army motorcycle, he is forced to ride in the sidecar while Gates drives the bike. He ends up being forced to sleep in a number of uncomfortable situations, ranging from a sitting in a chair, to a bathtub, to a room full of army brides. After satisfying bureaucratic requirements by going through three different marriage ceremonies, red tape and circumstance continue to delay his chance to consummate his marriage.
In the final scenes, he is forced to dress as a woman in a horsehair wig to make his way on to the ship that will take him and his bride to the United States.
Despite these comic circumstances and Cary Grant’s considerable comedic skills, “I Was a Male War Bride” is rarely mentioned when movie critics and film historians discuss best films Howard Hawks directed.
However, considering the difficulties Hawks overcame in completing this picture, it is rather amazing that it turned out to be as entertaining as it is.
Filming in war-ravaged Germany, the cast and crew encountered poor living conditions and a shortage of quality food. Since most of the scenes scheduled for Germany took place outdoors and in rural areas, they were at the mercy of the often unruly weather that is characteristic of Germany in the fall months. They spent long days waiting for the weather to clear. Hawks later recalled one day in which they were supposed to film a scene in a valley and all sides were covered with black clouds.
If he’d known what the future held, he might have considered those clouds an omen.
Shortly after the company arrived in England to shoot indoor scenes, a number of health problems swept through their ranks. Randy Stuart, who played the smart-talking WAC named Mae came down with jaundice. Ann Sheridan developed pleurisy which soon developed into pneumonia. Hawks broke out in hives which caused his entire body to turn into one large tormenting itch. As soon as Ann Sheridan had recovered enough to begin working on a reduced schedule, her co-star, Cary Grant, became seriously ill with a life-threatening case of hepatitis.
Grant reportedly lost anywhere between 20 and 40 pounds during this illness and was bedridden for weeks. With three weeks of filming left, Hawks was forced to shut down production in England and return to California in hopes of completing the movie when Grant recovered.
After a three month break and a few tests to determine whether Cary Grant had recovered enough weight to match what had been shot before his bout with hepatitis, work on the picture finally resumed. If you pay close attention to the movie, you can notice some of the physical changes Grant experienced due to his trying medical experience.
As Hawks later joked, “Cary Grant ran into a haystack on a motorcycle and came out weighing twenty pound less.”
“I Was a Male War Bride” might not be the greatest film Howard Hawks ever made but it remains a lasting legacy to the toughness and determination of his entire cast and crew.
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Screenplay: Charles Lederer, Leonard Spigelgass, Hagar Wilde, Henri Rochard (story)
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.