Modern audiences may not recognize the name Norman Krasna, but during the Forties, this highly popular playwright and screenwriter was among the top scribes of his profession, and it was during this peak period that the Oscar-winning writer penned one of the better screwball comedies for two of the day's top stars: affable Robert Montgomery, and gorgeous Carole Lombard.
As described in the informative featurette, "Mr. Hitchcock Meets the Smiths," Lombard was a major draw in the comedy genre, immortalizing herself in Ben Hecht's hysterical "Nothing Sacred," in 1937. While "Smith" isn't as venal and bizarre (lacking, say, angry children who bite strangers in the leg), Krasna's script contains a number of very witty repartee and physical gags, which Hitchcock exploits, with the aplomb of a British director comfy with his native dry humour.
The featurette gives a good snapshot of how the Master of Suspense came to direct his only American-styled comedy ("The Trouble With Harry" doesn't count, as there's a murder element right from the get-go), plus nice tributes to the main stars. What's missing, perhaps, is a deeper examination of humour in Hitchcock's canon, using "Smith" as the broadest and most gentrified example; historians Robert Osborne and Peter Schickel, alongside directors Peter Bogdanovich and Richard Franklin, however, point out that "Smith" has indeed extended moments of absurdity that exist in Hitchcock's 'straight' films in smaller but equally memorable portions.
And for those familiar with Hitchcock's phallic punchline at the end of "North By Northwest," the closer for "Smith" is pretty raunchy for its overt symbolism. A treat in this disc would have been a promotional still gallery, as the featurette contains some truly funny promo poses of the warring Smiths, with sharp-eyes and broad scowling from a particularly peeved Lombard. The archived teaser-trailer, though, offers an unusual campaign that used only stills from the movie, underscored with bouncy jazz music.
In terms of tech specs, Warner Bros have found an adequate source print. A bit worn in spots, the grain levels are a bit heavy at times; and around the final third it seems that at least one reel came from a surviving dupe source, with an obviously muddy sound track. It's still a good transfer, showcasing Harry Stradling's excellent cinematography, but the drop in quality is noticeable at the noted juncture.
Nevertheless, with Warner Bros dipping into the RKO library when key stars or directors contributed a film or two in their heyday, hopefully we'll see a greater effort to release more of the latter's classic films. "Mr. And Mrs. Smith" is definitely a welcome step forward.
This Warner Bros title is available separately or as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection that includes: Strangers On A Train, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Suspicion, North By Northwest, Dial M For Murder, Foreign Correspondent, The Wrong Man, Stage Fright and I Confess.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan