‘Comedy demands more timing, pace, shading and subtlety of emphasis. It is difficult to learn but once it is acquired, it can be easily slowed down and becomes an excellent foundation for dramatic acting’ Irene Dunne
She was one of the reigning queens of screwball comedy, and while Rosalind Russell’s performance in His Girl Friday (1940) is often thought of as THE defining screwball comedy performance by an actress, it’s Irene Dunne’s performance in The Awful Truth (1937) that stands out in my mind.
She and Cary Grant play a couple who is about to get a divorce. The problem is, they’re still in love and because of that, they will try their best to get in the way of each other’s romantic plans. Cary Grant is perfect as always, but Irene Dunne ‘steals the show’ – yet another expression I don’t like.
Her performance as Lucy Warriner is a rollercoaster of emotions and she plays them all to perfection. Her natural ability to be funny (‘I never could do that!), her impeccable delivery and hilarious facial expressions that go with it, as well as those heart-breaking moments when her character’s true feelings come out – it’s one of the most layered and carefully constructed performances ever.
She was rightfully nominated for an Oscar but lost out to Luise Rainer (The Good Earth, 1937). In fact, she was nominated a total of 5 times and never won. What was the Academy thinking?