Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) returns home from a trip, which he falsely says was to Florida, to find that his wife, Lucy (Irene Dunne), is not at home. When she returns in the company of her handsome music teacher, Armand Duvalle (Alexander D'Arcy), Jerry learns that Lucy spent the night in the country with Armand, after his car, they claim, broke down unexpectedly. Lucy then discovers that Jerry did not actually go to Florida, though he went so far as to get an artificial tan and write multiple fake letters home to convince her that he did. Mutual suspicions result in divorce.
During the divorce proceedings, Lucy moves into an apartment with her Aunt Patsy (Cecil Cunningham) and becomes engaged to a neighbor, Oklahoma native Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy), while Jerry is seen on a date with singer Dixie Belle Lee (Joyce Compton). However, Leeson's mother (Esther Dale) does not approve of her. Eventually, Lucy realizes that she still loves Jerry and decides to break off the engagement. However, before she can inform Dan, Armand shows up at her apartment to discuss Jerry's earlier interruption of Lucy's singing recital. When Jerry knocks on the door, Armand decides it would be prudent to hide in the bedroom. Jerry wants to reconcile, much to Lucy's delight, but then Dan and his mother make an appearance. Wanting to avoid complications, Jerry slips into Lucy's bedroom, too. A fight erupts when he finds Armand already there. When Jerry chases Armand out of the apartment in front of the Leesons, Dan and his mother stalk out.
Afterwards, Jerry is seen around town with heiress Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont). To break up this relationship, on the night before the final divorce decree, Lucy crashes a party at the Vance mansion, pretending to be Jerry's sister. She acts like a showgirl (recreating a risqué musical number she had seen performed by Dixie Belle) and lets on that Jerry's father ("their" father) had been a gardener at Princeton University, not a student athlete as Jerry had claimed. Realizing that his chances with Barbara have been effectively sabotaged, Jerry drives Lucy away in her car.
Motorcycle policemen stop them on the road, and Lucy, plotting to spend more time with Jerry, wrecks the car. The couple get a lift to her aunt's cabin from the policemen. Once there, Jerry admits having made a fool of himself and the Warriners are happily reconciled, just before the clock strikes midnight.Irene Dunne as Lucy Warriner
Cary Grant as Jerry Warriner
Ralph Bellamy as Dan Leeson
Alexander D'Arcy as Armand Duvalle
Cecil Cunningham as Aunt Patsy
Molly Lamont as Barbara Vance
Esther Dale as Mrs. Leeson
Joyce Compton as Dixie Belle Lee
Robert Allen as Frank Randall
Robert Warwick as Mr. Vance
Mary Forbes as Mrs. Vance
Skippy (a.k.a. Asta) as Mr. Smith, the dog (uncredited)
The Awful Truth was in production from June 21 through August 17, 1937. Grant fought hard to get out of the film during its shooting, since McCarey seemed to be improvising as he went along, and Grant even wanted to switch roles with co-star Ralph Bellamy. Although this initially led to hard feelings, it didn't prevent other McCarey–Grant collaborations—My Favorite Wife (1940), Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), and An Affair to Remember (1957)—from being made later.
The Awful Truth marked the first appearance of the uniquely effective light comedy persona used by Cary Grant in almost all his subsequent films, catapulting his career to worldwide fame. Writer/director Peter Bogdanovich has noted that after this movie, when it came to light comedy, "there was Cary Grant and everyone else was an also-ran." McCarey is largely credited with concocting this persona, and the two men even shared an eerie physical resemblance along with a similarity in their names.
The film is one of a series of what the philosopher Stanley Cavell calls "comedies of remarriage", where couples who have once been married, or are on the verge of divorce, etc., rediscover that they are in love with each other, and recommit to the idea of marriage. Other examples include The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday and My Favorite Wife, all released in 1940 and all starring Grant, Love Crazy, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, and the Noël Coward play and film Private Lives. The original template for this kind of comedy is Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Many screwball comedies are based on the audience enjoyment of the humorous dynamic of people who are clearly too smart for their own desires.
Film Daily named The Awful Truth as one of the 10 Best Films of 1937.Wins
Best Director: Leo McCarey
When McCarey won his Oscar for directing, he said he'd won it for the wrong picture, since he considered his direction of the melodrama Make Way for Tomorrow, also in 1937, to be the superior achievement.Nominations
Outstanding Production: Columbia
Best Actress: Irene Dunne
Best Supporting Actor: Ralph Bellamy
Best Writing (Screenplay): Viña Delmar
Best Editing: Al Clark
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #68
2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – #77
There were two previous film versions of Arthur Richman's play on which this film was based, a 1925 silent version from independent Peninsula Studios, San Mateo,California with Warner Baxter in Grant's role, and a little-known early talkie made in 1929 with Henry Daniell and Ina Claire. The play was remade in color, as the 1953 musical Let's Do It Again starring Jane Wyman and Ray Milland.
The Awful Truth was presented on Lux Radio Theatre September 11, 1939. Grant and Claudette Colbert starred in the adaptation.