My guess is that many people today, if they remember Myrna Loy and William Powell at all, think of the two actors as stars of the "Thin Man" series of movies from the 1930s and 40s. But as Warner Bros. want you to know, they were together in several other films as well, and the studio has put together this collection of five MGM motion pictures starring the two. They always made a charming on-screen couple, even if not all the movies were sensational.
These five films, available only in the box set, start with "Manhattan Melodrama" (1934), co-starring the pair with Clark Gable, and footnoted in history as the film hoodlum John Dillinger had just watched before being gunned down by the FBI outside the theater. Next is the drama "Evelyn Prentice" (1934), followed by "Double Wedding" (1937), "I Love You Again" (1940), and "Love Crazy" (1941). It was when MGM realized that audiences enjoyed Loy and Powell in lightweight affairs, mainly comedies, that the screen couple took off in popularity.
The movie I'd like to concentrate on is "I Love You Again," because it probably doesn't get the credit it deserves, and it's really quite good. While the other films in the set rate a good 6/10 for being upper average, "I Love You Again" is a clear 7/10, an above-average comedy and a delightful piece of fun.
"I Love You Again" plays with the old amnesia ploy, but it does so with more cleverness than most such stories. William Powell plays a big-city con man named George Carey, who nine years earlier hit his head and lost his memory. During the next nine years, he became a respectable, although pompous and tightfisted, businessman named Larry Wilson in the small town of Habersville, Pennsylvania. When the story opens, he's aboard a ship, where he attempts to save the life of a drunk fallen overboard. In the process of saving the man's life, he hits his head again, awakening his old memories and forgetting the past nine years. Are you following this?
By coincidence, the fellow he saves, "Doc" Ryan (Frank McHugh), is also a con man, and when they discover that George has been leading a double life without even knowing it, they decide to take advantage of the situation. George's idea is for them to go back to the small town, empty Larry Wilson's bank account, swindle the populace for all they can get, and hightail it out of town. All well and good, but when the ship docks, George's wife, Kay (Myrna Loy), is there to greet him, a complication he hadn't counted on. Still, it's a good complication for him and for us in the audience because Ms. Loy never looked lovelier, and George (now Larry) is quite the ladies' man. He doesn't mind the idea of being married to a knockout like Kay. Until he learns of a further complication; namely, that Kay is divorcing him for another guy because she finds him so stuffy and boring. Little does she know that her husband is now the charming, sophisticated, bon vivant he was before she met him.
So, that's the plot setup. Naturally, everything starts to go wrong for George/Larry from the outset, the worst being the divorce plans and the next worst being his unexpectedly fragile financial situation. As I say, the story is quite clever, with Powell having to play the formerly staid cheapskate Larry and the happy-go-lucky gambler George simultaneously, depending on who he's with.
But the primary narrative follows Powell's character trying to woo his wife back. She, of course, can't understand the sudden transformation that's come over him. She actually finds him interesting for a change. The film gets funnier as it goes along, with Powell handling most of the comedy and Loy a perfect straight man; er, lady. Meanwhile, McHugh as Doc Ryan, the other con artist, is a sort of comic sidekick to Powell. I love it; Habersville welcomes Larry back with open arms for saving a man's life, and every time Larry/George gets in trouble for not knowing anybody, he fakes a fainting spell from the blow on his head.
Look also for bit parts from Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer and Robert Blake, taking time off from their "Our Gang" roles to play Boy Scouts, as well as several other recognizable character actors like Donald Douglas, Edmond Lowe, Nella Walker, Charles Halton, and Jason Robards, Sr. Also note that celebrated Hollywood composer Franz Waxman ("Bride of Frankenstein," "Rebecca," "Suspicion," "Sunset Boulevard") did the music (uncredited), and that W.S. "One-Take Woody" Van Dyke II ("Trader Horn," "Tarzan the Ape Man," "The Thin Man," "Rose-Marie") directed the affair.
As with the other movies in the set, "I Love You Again" looks quite fetching in its new transfer. WB engineers must have obtained a good print, cleaned it up, and remastered it at a fairly high bit rate to have facilitated such a good picture. The disc retains the film's original 1.37:1 screen ratio, and it maintains good black-and-white contrasts and good definition. There is nary a line, scratch, fade, or age mark in sight. However, there is a bit of flutter and jiggle during the opening credits, which go away as soon as the movie starts.
One doesn't expect much from the monaural audio of the day, yet this Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack does a good job in the limited midrange with which it works. Voices come off clearly and realistically, and since that's really all the soundtrack has to offer, the relatively weak bass, treble, and dynamics don't make much difference.
The extras differ from disc to disc, so let me tell about several bonus items on the "I Love You Again" disc to give you the idea. The first is a nineteen-minute, vintage, 1940 short subject in black-and-white, "Jack Pot," from the "Crime Does Not Pay" series. The next is a seven-minute, 1940 MGM cartoon in Technicolor, "Tom Turkey and His Harmonica Humdingers." And there is an original theatrical trailer.
"I Love You Again" contains ten scene selections, but, oddly, Warner Bros. do not list them on the disc menu or on any printed form. You have to click on your remote to access them. English is the only spoken language available, but there are English and French subtitles. The five discs come housed in a foldout Digipak container.
Like most boxed sets, this one contains some things that are more accessible to first-time viewers than others. It probably helps already to be a fan of the stars to appreciate everything in the collection. But I think "Manhattan Melodrama" and "I Love You Again" are good enough to grab most viewers' attention.