Sometimes I think Nick Charles gets too much credit. Oh, he’s my favorite character of the Golden Age, and can simply do no wrong, but I've been so "love crazy" lately, meaning that whenever I watch William Powell in this 1941 comedy, I think that it’s the role that captures his many strengths and the entirety of his comedic style. I also hold the view that it’s his best comic performance, based on what I’ve seen of his work.
Love Crazy is the story of architect Stephen Ireland, set to celebrate his wedding anniversary with his wife of four years, Susan (Myrna Loy…of course) in their posh MGM-designed penthouse. On the night of their anniversary, a series of mishaps and misunderstandings lead Susan to want to divorce Stephen. In order to prevent this, Stephen pretends to be insane. From this plot point springs forth hilarity from the rich comic silt bed that is divorce, appearing roaring drunk on your anniversary, getting scalded, cross dressing, and most glorious of all: being declared legally insane and the delightful institutionalizing that follows. I’m surprised that this movie isn’t better known. Blame it on the Thin Man, which is actually referenced in this movie:
Just a quick word of praise for Love Crazy’s supporting cast, all of whom are excellent; with Florence Bates, infuriatingly annoying as the Mother-in-Law; Jack “Willoughby. Ward Willoughby” Carson, Donald MacBride—not quite believable as an artist--, and Gail Patrick--the “Deco Dame” of many posts here at HD—at her comic best. A host of Metro contract players also deliver the goods with fine comic timing. Only Myrna Loy gets a rather thankless role, with little of the Nora Charles-style wit on display.
The movie also boasts a gorgeous Cedric Gibbons set. It’s obviously a soundstage, but so gorgeous that it’s easy to immerse yourself in that world. Have a look:
Despite the MGM gloss and high production values, it is William Powell that is the centerpiece of this film. Powell starts off as a happy and in-love husband, but everything unravels with a series of events, each more disastrous than the previous one, all of which showcase Powell’s wide ranging comedic gifts.
No Golden Age actor, save for Cary Grant, allowed his veneer of elegance to be stripped away and sent so quickly down the drain in the name of comedy as much as William Powell did. I feel the need to compare the two in this regard, because Powell and Grant stand shoulder to shoulder as the best in the “elegant man dropped several notches through bizarre circumstance” department. The difference I see is that while Grant often delivered his lines in a broader comedic style (see The Awful Truth for this at its most definitive), whereas Powell’s line readings were always dry and more subtle. This film is the closest that Powell got to total abandon, but he never goes over the top, even though the situations do. There’s also the point that Powell’s screen persona isn’t as open to caricature like Grant’s can be. Old Bill would be just as good today in sophisticated comedies or silliness just as he was in his time. His mannerisms and speaking style are not so unique that he’s like Cagney or Bogart; it’s just timeless.
If Cary Grant was perpetually victimized in Bringing Up Baby, then Powell is mauled for the duration of Love Crazy. He’s bossed around by his mother-in-law, an area rug, an elevator, a scalding shower, locked up in a mental institution accessible to anyone who can climb a short chain link fence. However there is one gag which I will not spoil; those who've seen the movie already know. But the "freeing of the hats" isn't one of them!
Love Crazy is William Powell’s comic masterpiece. The witty, highly quotable script combined with delightful and laugh-out-loud slapstick, the pacey direction of Jack Conway, the beautiful sets, a game cast of MGM professionals, and of course William Powell as a man whose wedding anniversary goes more than slightly awry.