Sunday, March 18, 2012

I Love My Husband, But! (1946) - A Hilarious Unknown Gem

I Love My Husband, But! Dave O'Brien Dorothy Short
Dave O'Brien and Dorothy Short in "Captain Midnight."

"I Love My Husband, But!" (1946) is a gem, but nobody knows about it.  Well, nobody except those who might chance to catch it during one of its airings on TCM at odd times in between features. It is difficult to find otherwise - "I Love My Husband, But!" is an extra on Warner Bros. DVD of "Without Reservations" (1946). Basically, this is a one-reeler that would have played prior to the main feature down at the Bijou.

Everybody knows Bob Hope, Rodney Dangerfield, Phil Silvers, and so on and so forth.  They weren't the only funny people around, and maybe not the funniest at all  They were famous, that was true, and that is why are remembered. But there are lots of famous people these days, does that make them the most talented? Well, I'm sure "The Situation" and "Octomom" think so. Maybe you and I have different ideas about that.

I Love My Husband, But! Dave O'Brien Pete Smith
 Pete Smith, George Sidney and Dave O'Brien.

"I Love My Husband, But!" isn't all that original in concept. Basically, everything in it is a cliché about married life. However, most jokes aren't original - the key is to excel at the execution. The people behind "I Love My Husband, But!" do that in spades.

So, let's take on the truth about married life! This is one of a series of shorts that tackle just that question. We proceed through a series of vignettes that show how a loving spouse's little "quirks" can become like dynamite over time, fracturing all the good deeds one can do in this life.

I Love My Husband, But! Dorothy Short
Dorothy Short.

Dorothy Short, a former ingenue who appeared in "Reefer Madness" (1936) along with future husband O'Brien, is a Pete Smith regular. Short excels in "I Love My Husband, But" as the put-upon wife. "I Love My Husband, But!" is a simple but classic 1946 comic one-reeler that is representative of its breed. Short plays a wife who, with every little provocation, finally goes over the edge. She is perfection as she does the slow burn or stomps her feet or does one of any number of other things that we sometimes think, but seldom do. Short was a fine comedienne, right up there in the same league as Lucille Ball, only not nearly as well known.

I Love My Husband, But! Pete Smith
Pete Smith.

Producer Pete Smith, who is the brains behind "I Love My Husband, But!," chips in with wise-guy inflections that enhance the comedy at every turn. He did a series of "Pete Smith Specialties" for MGM, from 10-18 a year, of which many are comedies in which he invariably turns up as the snarky narrator just waiting for some clumsy fool to fail at something simple. These were programmers, turned out to fill up time without stealing any attention from the main feature. The set-ups in "I Love My Husband, But!" have a typical Pete Smith Specialty wise-guy flair; for instance, in one scene, O'Brien carefully instructs his wife in a note to get his shoes cleaned "because I'm so particular." At another point, O'Brien meticulously tiptoes around the house in the morning while his wife sleeps, showing extreme consideration, only to absentmindedly slam the door as he's leaving and rouse her. O'Brien himself was very good at this type of short, earning Oscars in 1937 and 1940. Smith and O'Brien also had a fan in the White House, receiving a special award from President Harry Truman a few years after this short.
I Love My Husband, But! Dorothy Short
Dorothy Short in "Reefer Madness"

Dave "Tex" O'Brien, who plays the bumbling husband, was a jack-of-all-trades in Hollywood. He started out as a singer and stuntman and became a fairly well-known "B" movie screen cowboy (he later also made regular appearances on "The Red Skelton Hour"). O'Brien also was a writer (good friends with Red Skelton co-writer Sherwood Schwartz, creator of "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch"). O'Brien apparently liked to do these types of shorts on the down-low in between other projects. Here O'Brien goes by the name David Barclay, and he directs with panache the script of "I Love My Husband, But," which he helped to write. The reel is a series of self-contained vignettes that are strung together to create a comic whole. Everybody plays themselves O'Brien and Short were married), with an added bonus of brief appearances by Marie Windsor (who must have been friends with them) and Lila Leeds. They all probably lived on the same street or something.

Watch as Dave has to fix a curtain rod - "All he has to do is put ONE NAIL HERE (a huge arrow pointing to the spot)" - and see what happens. You know what will happen - but it so well done that it is hilarious anyway. The outcome is as inevitable as the sunrise and sunset. But it is a riot anyway.

"I Love My Husband, But!" and its fellow Pete Smith Specialty shorts elicit very mixed opinions. Okay, "I Love My Husband, But! perhaps is not the best of its kind. It leans toward the amateurish side (almost certainly intentionally, to enhance the cinema verite humor) and is easy to nitpick. If you are the type to say, "I wouldn't have done it that way, that's not funny, you first get a ladder and..." this is not the short for you. It's funny how nowadays people rave about mediocre television comics, but comedians of the past receive little respect aside from the true giants of the business. Anyway, on the bright side, "I Love My Husband, But!" is hilarious if you give it a chance. In my opinion, this should have won an Academy Award for Best Short (the pun is intentional).

I Love My Husband, But! Dorothy Short
Dorothy Short.


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