What a pleasure to find an old Hollywood movie whose primary conflict is the battle of its two leads to get laid.
I don’t mean it in the lovey-dovey romantic ideal sort of way, I mean I Was A War Bride is about the impossible logistics of two people knocking boots in the middle of an armed conflict. In 1949 this was certainly a cheeky topic. Nowadays, it’s downright scandalous.
Frenchman Henri (Cary Grant) and American Catherine (Ann Sheridan) work together on a mission, fall in love, and get married. But on their wedding night, just before magic time, Catherine is ordered to return to the United States. Not only do they lose their wedding night, they end up shacking up at a friend’s where Henri has to sleep in the bathtub (“What an awful place for a faucet!” “Where?” “My back!”). Even worse, with Henri yet to get an American passport, there seems no way the two lovebirds can remain together. Ah but an obscure congressional law allows travel permits for war brides. “It says spouses, it doesn’t mention sex,” says the officer advising Henri and Catherine. “I’m convinced the American army doesn’t believe in it!” replies Henri.
War Bride is basically a 105 minute emasculation session for poor Cary Grant, and, sincerely, there’s no one I’d rather see in the role. The entire movie builds to the moment when Henri will have to stop saying he’s a bride and start dressing like one, and it’s still an enormous laugh when we see Grant in a horse hair wig and stockings.
The movie makes fun of sexism without ever becoming sexist itself. For 1949, it’s practically progressive, since the scenes before the couple’s marriage show Henri, rather than Catherine, to be the incompetent. She’s the one who can drive a motorcycle, and it’s she who finds their mission target, a black market dealer named (interestingly enough) Schindler. Grant’s character even addresses the topic during an endless night spent searching for a place to sleep. He comes upon yet another women-only dormitory, and the guard outside apologetically denies him entry. “Have you ever noticed that women always get a place to sleep? I wonder why that is,” Henri asks. The guard replies, “Well I suppose it’s because they’re the weaker sex.” “I don’t believe it. They’re stronger,” Henri says, “and do you know why? Because they get enough sleep, that’s why.”
I Was A Male War Bride is one of dozens of romantic comedies predicated on the tension that arises when the two leads can’t figure out how to get together. These days, the devices employed to keep cinematic lovers apart are so forced they frustrate audiences instead of delighting them. War Bride is from different stock: Henri and Catherine’s struggles are never less than completely organic and their heroic clinch in the film’s final shot produces a sensation in the viewer that can only be described as orgasmic.