I Love You Again (1940): One of Bill and Myrna's Finest


When I think of screen couples, the first people that come to mind are Myrna Loy and William Powell. Although they were the epitome of sophistication and class, they were never afraid to be silly, to make funny faces, or to rub elbows with a less-than-chic crowd. Everything about them screams of urbanity and refinement, from their mellifluous voices to their staggering style, yet Loy and Powell were two of the most down-to-earth people you'd ever meet.

The duo's legacy will always be tied into their iconic roles as Nick and Nora Charles, but apart from the six Thin Man films they made, Loy and Powell appeared in seven other great movies together (eight if you count Loy's cameo in The Senator was Indiscreet). My favorite of these non-Thin Man movies is easily the perfect screwball comedy I Love You Again. The script by Charles Lederer, George Oppenheimer, and Harry Kurnitz overflows with wit and charm, and despite the film's plot revolving around such an old device as amnesia, everything still feels fresh and funny. The story for ILYA is credited to Leo Gordon and Maurine Watkins, whose name you might recognize as the author of the 1926 play Chicago. Watkins had quite the career, from journalism to writing plays to writing scripts for films like Libeled Lady (1936) and No Man of Her Own (1932).

We open on a ship bound for New York. Two men are seated at the bar, complaining about a fellow passenger, when the subject of their griping walks in. Larry Wilson (Powell) strolls in and right away we understand the men's annoyance -- not only is Larry cheap, he is also insufferable in the way he constantly talks about his hometown and his aversion to drinking, as if not liking alcohol made him more superior. Turning Powell into a stuffy teetotaler is an amusing way to play with the actor's image, especially when we all know him so well as martini lover Nick Charles. As Larry sips on his ginger ale and grape juice, a drunken "Doc" Ryan (Frank
McHugh) stumbles in. Sensing Larry's disapproval, Doc decides to prove that he isn't inebriated by walking on the railing of the ship. When he quickly falls into the ocean, Larry throws him a buoy -- and gets thrown himself when the buoy's rope becomes tangled around his ankle. Things just get worse for Larry when an oar hits him on the head as they're being rescued.

Everyone believes that Larry jumped in to save Doc, including Doc. Larry wakes up in his room with Doc by his side, confused and irritated. Right away we notice a change in him as he recalls that the last thing he remembers is being on a train and getting
knocked out after $10,000 was stolen from him. Slowly, Larry comes to realize that for the past nine years, he has had amnesia. He is actually a con man named George Carey, a name that Doc recognizes because he ran in the same circles as George. The two men go through Larry's things, finding bank records that show he has $147,000 -- and that's just in one of three accounts! George decides to continue being Larry Wilson just long enough to empty his accounts and skip town. To help him, he cuts Doc in for 25% to pretend to be his physician and accompany him to Larry's hometown of Habersville, PA.

When the ship docks in New York, George and Doc are de-boarding when they spot a beautiful woman (Loy) waving at them. George likes what he sees, but they have business to attend to! The woman then greets them, leading George and Doc to make the realization that she is Larry's wife! It's unexpected, but George isn't too upset -- it is Myrna Loy, after all. The trio goes to George's hotel suite, where George quickly gets rid of Doc so he can be alone with his wife. Doc thinks they're playing with fire, pointing out that George doesn't even know the woman's name. "Okay, okay!" George says as he pushes him out the door. "Yes?" Loy asks. A-ha! Her name is Kay! Even though they're alone now, Kay stays rather
distant and cold... which is explained when she begins to discuss their divorce.

Their conversation is cut short by the arrival of Mr. Billings from the Habersville National Bank. George had requested $5,000 from the bank as a test and Mr. Billings came to deliver it personally. He also has some distressing news for George: his personal account is now overdrawn, thanks to some land he just purchased, and the other accounts can't be accessed without going through a committee because they are the community chest and the Anti-Vice League's funds.

The news is rather deflating, but George gets an idea: they could find, or rather plant, oil on his new land and reap the rewards by tricking people into investing in the now-valuable property. Their first step is to contact a grifter they know named Duke (Edmund Lowe) to plant the oil. George also thinks he needs to stall his divorce in order to avoid any scandal that could harm his reputation, which could affect the scam. Just then, a man bursts into the suite looking for Kay. He turns out to be Herbert, Kay's fiancé, and without realizing it, he helpfully explains that Kay wants a divorce because Larry was more attached to his numerous clubs and organizations than he was to his marriage. When George suggests he will no longer be granting the divorce he promised, Herbert punches him and then walks into a door, giving himself a black eye. Karma?

Later that afternoon, George calls and tells Kay that she must go to dinner with him that night if she wants her divorce. Kay relents, but she brings Herbert along. Both are shocked when they arrive at the ritzy restaurant to find that "Larry" has ordered lobster and champagne. When he shows up in a beautiful tux and with his mustache stylishly trimmed, it's almost too much for Kay and Herbert to handle. When George asks Kay to dance, she declines, remembering how terrible her husband is on the dance floor. Not one to give up, George starts hopping around, twirling an imaginary partner. It's a fantastic pantomime done by Powell and one of my favorite comedy bits from him. Embarrassed, Kay finally
joins him and becomes amazed at the sudden skill "Larry" has.

When they return to their table, though, Kay gets down to business: when can she expect a divorce? George replies that it'll be about 5-6 weeks, an estimation that strikes Kay and Herbert as very suspicious. They accuse him of delaying the proceedings so he can be elected the new president of the Chamber of Commerce, an excuse that George happily grabs on to. Not seeing any way around it, Kay gives in. She and Herbert start heading back to their hotel, with George walking them out. With Herbert's permission, he then gives Kay one final kiss -- and boy, is it a lulu! Probably not the
smartest move, Herbert.

Soon enough, they all arrive in Habersville. Doc and George become terrified when the train depot is suddenly swamped by the whole town as they give George a hero's welcome. (Remember: everyone still thinks that "Larry" jumped in to save Doc.) He's greeted lovingly by Kay's mother; the mayor gives him the key to the city; he is gifted a shining silver trumpet. When the mayor asks him to lead them in the town's song -- that he wrote -- George thinks fast and fakes a fainting spell, something that Doc claims will happen on and off over the next few weeks. (These guys are so
clever!)

George is taken home, where Doc gives Mother orders that the patient is to have as many "stimulants" as possible. This leads to a hilarious moment where Mother watches as George pretends to struggle to down a glass of scotch. Speaking of Mother, she makes sure to tell her son-in-law how ridiculous it is that he and Kay have been sleeping in separate rooms for the past year. She is all for their reconciliation, so much so that when Kay refuses to make George a late-night snack, she guilts Kay into doing it anyway. My favorite part of this scene is when we see George in the kitchen
trying to entice Kay by banging on pans so it sounds like he is having issues fixing his own meal.

Over scrambled eggs and champagne, George tries to convince his wife that he has changed. "You couldn't change any more than one of your stuffed owls could change," she remarks. "You be careful, madam," George says, "or you'll turn my pretty head with your flattery." Kay's comeback? "I've often wished I could turn your head...on a spit, over a slow fire." Yikes! Kay makes it clear that she is only staying in the same house as him for the optics, but she does seem to be hesitantly warming to him -- until the dope lets it
slip that he wasn't even hungry. Kay gets the last laugh, though, by dumping his nice scrambled eggs on his head before angrily going to bed.

Having gathered intel around town, Doc comes in and informs George that Larry was (is?) the manager of a pottery factory. The two men sneak over to the place so it'll look like George knows what he's doing at work the next day. Their reconnaissance doesn't go as planned, though, when they accidentally set off an alarm and end up destroying a room full of merchandise while running away. The men race back to the house with the police close on their heels.

Kay, her mother, and the officers all rush into George's bedroom, believing the intruders to be in there. They find George and Doc in the bed, George acting as though he is asleep. Doc lies that "Larry" took a turn for the worse and Doc needed to be by his side. He is finally able to get rid of everyone by confiding to one of the policemen that the ladies need to be removed since "I only sleep in the top of my pajamas!" Frank McHugh is so excellent in this movie, I just love him to pieces.

The next day, George and Doc head over to the factory, where George is brilliantly able to excuse his "memory lapses" and bluff his way through business decisions. When Kay drops in to pick up her monthly allowance to buy some clothes, George goes with her. The sales clerks aren't too thrilled to see him, however, due to his past rudeness to them. Everyone about falls over when George asks to see more chic and expensive items for Kay, which delights and confuses her.

That night, George and Doc meet with Duke on Larry's land. Duke has planted the oil; now all that needs to be done is get the townspeople out there to find it. Duke wants this done yesterday, the prospect of the deal's profits making him anxious.

Back at the house, George stops by Kay's room, where she is trying on one of her lovely new nightgowns. (Side note: isn't it funny how glamorous sleepwear used to be? I love it, but it does seem a touch silly.) Admiring his wife, George flirts with her by talking about lovebirds and how the male bird coos to the female. Feeling conflicted, Kay demands George stop trying to win her back. She is beginning to fall for him again and it's proving to be difficult, especially because she thinks he is only wooing her since she will no longer be one of his possessions. When George replies to all this by adorably cooing, Kay starts to cry and asks him to leave.


At work the next day, George learns about another one of Larry's organizations: the Junior Rangers, a Boy Scout-like group that he is the troop leader of. George isn't pleased, but he goes along with it when he realizes that many of the Rangers are the sons of influential men who could be conned into buying George's land. With his embarrassing Ranger uniform on (think shorts and knee-high socks), George goes to the troop's weekly meeting.

He soon regrets it when he discovers that today is the tracking test for one of the Rangers. Wearing metal deer-hoof cleats on his
shoes, George must run and hide throughout the woods; if the Ranger can find him, he earns a badge. To make things more complicated for George, he will be shadowed by Mr. Billings from the bank, another troop leader who has come to study George's technique. The test hits quite a few snags, such as George falling into a pit and getting caught in a bear trap, but he is able to play it off as his superior Ranger skills and eventually he leads the troop to the pond where Duke put the oil. Under the cover of night, three of the boys' fathers bring their sons back to the pond to see the oil with their own eyes.

Satisfied, the men head over to George's house to make him an offer. It's a pretty funny scene as the men think they are pulling one over on "Larry" by not mentioning the oil. Their con is no match for George's, though. Just as he is about to sign the papers, Duke comes in and offers a much larger sum, causing the other men to match it. Unexpectedly, Kay busts into the room -- Herbert told her about the oil and she is worried that her husband is being taken advantage of. Much to George and Duke's delight, Kay's news forces the men to offer even more money.

Saying he needs to think it over, George goes for a stroll with Kay, which starts with her mailing a break-up letter to Herbert, who wanted to capitalize on the oil discovery. The husband and wife then make their way to a great overlook with a gorgeous view of the town, Kay reminding George that this is where he had proposed. When he asks her why she married him, she replies that although he appeared boring and old-fashioned, she thought she could see a man full of excitement underneath the surface. She had hoped that she could bring that man out, but it never happened... until he returned from his cruise.

Upon returning home, Kay confronts her husband about why he isn't more thrilled about their reconciliation. She can tell something is wrong and he is going to try to be noble by giving her up, but she won't hear of it. "Ever since you got off that boat, you've been chasing me like an amorous goat," she says. "You've tried your darnedest to make me fall in love with you and now you have. So from now on, I'm going to do the chasing, and believe me, brother, you're going to know you're being chased." She then plants a goodnight kiss on him, mirroring the surprise smooch he gave her towards the beginning of the film.

Although the con is going smoothly and he has worked quite hard at it, George decides to choose Kay instead. Doc is bummed, but he is willing to back his friend up. While George heads over to Duke's hotel, Doc calls up the grifter to try and soften him up, but it doesn't work. Instead, he turns around to find Kay sitting on the stairs! She heard everything, and now it's time for Doc to spill the whole story.

Meanwhile, at the hotel, Duke is furious with George and refuses to call it off. Kay and Doc arrive to rescue George from Duke's wrath,
but they're unable to stop the guy from punching George unconscious. Once he wakes up, George seems to have reverted back to being Larry, as he talks about being on the ship and falling overboard. Kay is devastated; Doc is sad he has lost his friend; and Duke is still enraged, but he also recognizes that they will have to halt the deal. He and Doc walk away, leaving a crying Kay and a baffled George alone. All is lost for Kay... but wait! Realizing that George changes every time he hits his head, she picks up a vase and raises it just as George turns. When he coos like a lovebird and brings Kay in for a kiss, she and the audience are ecstatic to realize that George was just faking the relapse to get out of the con.

When reflecting on her partnership with William Powell, Myrna Loy once remarked "I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell. He was a brilliant actor, a delightful companion, a great friend and above all, a true gentleman." Sadly, Powell was going through some intense personal issues around the time I Love You Again was made. In 1937, he became heartbroken by the death of his fiancĂ©e Jean Harlow and he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He stepped away from filmmaking for a year as he recovered from two surgeries and the pain of losing Harlow. Fittingly, his return to the screen was Another Thin Man (1939), his eighth film with Loy, which was quickly followed by three more collaborations almost back-to-back: I Love You Again, Love Crazy (1941), and Shadow of the Thin Man (1941).

Interestingly enough, Loy almost didn't star in I Love You Again. She was set to appear alongside Clark Gable in an adaptation of Robert Sherwood's The Road to Rome, a play about Hannibal's invasion of Rome. With WWII intensifying, though, MGM felt that the project's anti-war message wasn't advisable at the time, so the film fell through. It was, however, revived in 1955 as the Technicolor musical extravaganza Jupiter's Darling, starring Esther Williams, Howard Keel, and Marge and Gower Champion.


It feels like a common denominator in the Loy-Powell pictures is director W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke, when actually, Van Dyke directed them just six times. That's still a lot, but I always felt like it was more than that. Maybe that is because the director was a huge influence on the pair. Not only was he in charge of their first film, Manhattan Melodrama (1934), he also fought for them when he presented MGM with the idea of adapting Dashiell Hammett's novel The Thin Man. Van Dyke shifted the story's focus from the mystery to the indelible Charleses, a very wise decision that made Powell and Loy sensations. Van Dyke would end up directing the first four Thin Man movies as well as I Love You Again, and he continually did a superb job.


I Love You Again is a wonderfully goofy comedy with masterful performances courtesy of Loy, Powell, and Frank McHugh. Every frame of it is simply joyous, and thanks to Myrna and Bill, the film has not just laughs, but also a beating heart.


















 

















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I'm very happy to say that this is my first entry to the incredible Bill and Myrna New Year's Blogathon. Definitely check out the other tributes to this magnificent team here!

Comments

  1. What a treat! I Love You Again is definitely a movie that measures up to the talents of its stars. Loved your description of the movie as it really put over the amiable goofiness of everything.

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    1. Thank you! I always seem to forget just how excellent this film is. Then I rewatch it and think "Oh, that's why it's one of my favorites!" MGM certainly did right by Loy and Powell with this one.

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  2. Thank you for writing! Can we say that we love William Powell when he coos in Myrna's ear!!! I wish we had more of that in the classics- The Flapper Dame

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    1. William Powell cooing is just precious. Thanks for co-hosting such a fun event!

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  3. Oh my goodness! I love Loy and Powell AND I love con artists (fictional ones, anyway) -- I HAVE to find this movie! Thanks so much for your lovely write-up :-)

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    1. Oh, you're in for such a treat! Thanks for the comment!

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    2. I actually found a used copy of it in a box set on Amazon and ordered it -- should arrive next week sometime!

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    3. Yay! I hope it turns out you've found a new favorite!

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