Cary Grant loses the battle of the sexes in Dream Wife.
Dream Wife marked the first of three movies starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. While their second pairing in An Affair to Remember would be their most famous, this first outing is a funny (if dated) romantic comedy that provides plenty of laughs.
Grant plays Clem, a businessman engaged to Kerr's Effie. To Clem's chagrin, Effie is a workaholic at the State Department who's more interested in an upcoming oil deal with Bukistan than she is with her own upcoming nuptials. When Effie tells him that they'll need to postpone the wedding while she works out the details of the deal, Clem decides that he's had enough and cancels the wedding altogether.
What Clem wants is an old fashioned girl who'll tend to his every whim and he thinks he's found her in Bukistan's Princess Tarji and he soon proposes to her. The State Department, not wanting anything to go wrong and disturb their relationship with Bukistan, places Effie in charge of making sure the wedding goes smoothly. Not content with just shepherding the wedding, Effie decides to make Tarji her protege and educate her in the ways of the modern American woman.
Sure the plot is gimmicky and borders on sitcom-like battle of the sexes humor at times, but thanks to Kerr and especially Grant, it works. Grant is one of the greatest romantic comedy leads of all time and he helps raise the plot far above itself. Kerr is also good, playing the strong willed woman who eventually succumbs to Grant's peerless charms.
Perhaps it's not surprising that the plot resembles a sitcom since it was written by Sydney Sheldon who would go on to write for The Patty Duke Show and create and write I Dream of Jeanie. Sheldon also directs the film and he keeps things light and peppy with just the right amount of silliness. Sheldon also wrote the earlier Grant film, The Bachelor and Bobby Soxer.
As is seemingly true of every Hollywood portrayal of a battle of the sexes, it is the women who seem to come out on top. Poor Clem never stands a chance when Effie teaches Traji about several historical American women.
Grant would certainly make better known films as well as funnier and more romantic ones, but even in a comedy as light and broad as this one he brings plenty of comic skill and timing to the table. Yet again here he shows that he was indeed one of Hollywood's greatest male leads of all time.
Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in Dream Wife.
I disagree with Scott on only a few minor points. First of all Cary Grant wasn't “one of the greatest romantic comedy leads of all time” he was hands down THE greatest comedic leading man in movie history, period. No one else has ever even come close to equaling his combination of effortless perfection. He was impossibly handsome, looked better in a suit than any man has a right to and was a master at physical comedy and mugging. He could deliver a clever one-liner with aplomb (and a raised eyebrow) while maintaining his elegant sophistication in the silliest of situations. In short, Cary Grant – onscreen – was flawless.
I also disagree that this movie is dated. Well actually that's not entirely true. I agree that it's dated in certain ways. But it was also ahead of its time. Most notably in the way in which it shows a woman as a high ranking diplomat to a Middle-Eastern country where our need for oil is of paramount national concern. The underrated Deborah Kerr makes like a 1950s Hillary Clinton (only much prettier and with a fabulous wardrobe), putting her career before her personal life and hobnobbing with Heads of State. She cleverly guides Princess Tarji of Bukistan down the path of independence as well.
Kerr and Grant made a scintillating movie pair. It's a shame they didn't make more than just three movies together. They both had such refinement, combined with great comic timing. And physically their looks complimented each others. They made a beautifully elegant and intelligent movie couple. Dream Wife may not be as well known as An Affair to Remember but it is certainly more famous than their final movie together The Grass Is Greener, which came out in 1960.
Some of the dialogue is quite clever. I enjoyed the following frantic exchange between Clem and Tarji as they approach the alter to be wed. Clem: “What can you expect from a woman? You're weak, helpless, and nothing but trouble. And that goes for all of you. Harriet Beecher Stowe. She wrote about slaves, didn't she? Well, it sure takes one to know one.” Tarji: “She great woman. She write Uncle Tom's Cabin.” Clem: “Susan B. Anthony...” Tarji: “Susan B. Anthony fight for woman's vote. And that not all. Carry Country...” Clem: “Carry Nation!”
Sure the plot is sitcomish but with such a talented cast it breezes by. Dream Wife features the movie dream team of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Sit back and be prepared to see class personified.
Betta St John, Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in Dream Wife
I am a Cary Grant fan and have always enjoyed his sophisticated masculine charm. In this role however, he seems a bit feminine. Note how his leg is crossed in the opening scene. At first I thought perhaps I was just seeing Grant as Patrick has often suggested, but then the film continued.
Like a Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film, Grant's and Kerr's characters are somewhat switching traditional sex roles. He is the romantic one with candles lit for dinner. She works a high powered job. She has him make her drink, and not in a sexy way. He makes the salad dressing, as he knows how she likes it. She is the one who postpones the wedding.
The most feminist line is when Kerr complains about how stressful her job is, "Good thing I am a woman. A man couldn't take it." Grant, a bit later says the chauvinist line, "If a woman can run a home and still find time for a career that's fine." This all leads to an argument that includes Kerr ranting on female emancipation, "Have you ever heard of Susan B Anthony?" Without skipping a beat, Grant comes back with, "Could she cook?"
I loved the scene where grant puts on a traditional outfit of Bukistan at the airport and bystanders make fun of him with such lines as, "Look at the funny looking man." and "He's probably from Arabia." This film is challenging more than just sexual roles but stereotypes as well. Although some of the details are relics of the 50s, I agree with Patrick, this film remains very relatable today. Come on! It includes the line, "Oil! Every plan we make for peace or war depends on that oil."
As Patrick wrote, Cary Grant is the greatest romantic comedy leading man of all time. This however, is not his greatest role. His pursuit of an attractive, obedient younger girl is by no means fascinating. He does not want a wife. He wants a good looking servant with sexual benefits.
His romantic bedside speech to her, or to someone he thinks is her, is ridiculously out of place. He could not possibly have any real feelings for Tarji as they have never had a single conversation at that point. The joke is even repeated later, with even less results. As Scott wrote, the plot is quite sitcom-ish, as well as predictable.
There are some decent moments here. My favorite being when a co-worker tells Grant about his wonderful marriage but then lets on that his mother in-law lives with them. It was often funny putting Cary Grant in awkward situations. His highbrow response was often hilarious. However, he should never look so pathetically stupid as he does so often here. Clem is one of the least likable characters Grant has ever played and as a result, this is one of my least favorite Cary Grant films.
Photos © Copyright MGM (1953)