WriterNunnally Johnson, James M. Cain Release dateFebruary 25, 1939 (1939-02-25)
Wife, Husband and Friend is a 1939 comedy film starring Loretta Young, Warner Baxter and Binnie Barnes in the three title roles, respectively. The film, directed by Gregory Ratoff from a script by Nunnally Johnson, tells the story of a contractor and his wife, and how their musical ambitions result in marital tensions and a romantic triangle with a professional singer. The film was remade as Everybody Does It (1949), starring Paul Douglas as the contractor, Celeste Holm as his wife, and Linda Darnell as the singer.
The opera season has opened in New York City, and building contractor Leonard Borland (Baxter), who comes from a working-class background, is coping with the musical ambitions of his wife Doris (Young), who is from a socially prominent family. Despite his misgivings that she has no talent, she is being trained for a career in singing by the voice teacher Hugo (Cesar Romero). Doris prepares for a recital that Leonard supports, hoping that will get singing "out of her system." The performance is witnessed by opera singer Cecil Carver (Barnes), who is attracted to Leonard and believes that Doris lacks sufficient talent to become a pro. Cecil accidentally discovers that Leonard ironically does have a great operatic voice, and offers to train him.
Leonard goes along, egged on by Cecil, who believes that this will allow him to finally be on Doris' social level. While Doris' singing career flounders, Leonard's career as "Logan Bennett" meets with critical success in a tour with Cecil.
After returning to New York in preparation for a national tour, Leonard finds Doris has become ill because she was booed off the stage in her professional debut. He does not join Cecil on the tour. That night, Doris is confronted by Cecil at a party. Leonard claims innocence to adultery, and performs "On the Road to Mandalay" to prove his musical talent. Doris becomes despondent, and she and Leonard split up.
Leonard is cajoled by Cecil to perform the lead in an opera. But Leonard makes a fool of himself, and that leads to a reconciliation with Doris. Cecil is outraged and vows never to see him again. Leonard returns to the contracting business and gives up singing.