Cary and Irene (THE AWFUL TRUTH)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

JANE WYMAN - An underrated screwball comedy actress

Me and Dawn have been posting about great on screen couples on Noir and Chick Flicks this month in celebration of Valentine's Day. One of my recent picks was the underrated team of Jane Wyman and Jack Carson. So I wanted to expand on Jane Wyman here and focus on her contributions to the screwball comedy genre. Most people know Jane for her serious films such as The Yearling, The Lost Weekend, Johnny Belinda (her only Oscar win), Stage Fright, and All That Heaven Allows. But Jane got her start in film early in her career with some great screwball comedies. During the mid 30's she had bit parts (both uncredited) in several comedies headlining Carole Lombard: My Man Godfrey and Fools For Scandals. She took over playing Torchy Blane, the wise-cracking reporter in 1939's Playing With Dynamite and she was off. Films during this period included Wide Open Faces (1938) with Joe E. Brown; the Brother Rat films with Ronald Reagan, Priscilla Lane and Eddie Albert; and Honeymoon For Three (1941) with Ann Sheridan. All these films provided Jane to work on her comedic skills and she would get better with each subsequent role.

with Ronald Reagan

Her break-out comedy film would be 1941's You're In The Army Now, co-starring Phil Silvers and Jimmy Durante. Jane was the girl caught between the two guys and I think she would learn a lot from working with these two comedians. She would pair up with frequent co-star Jack Carson for the first time in the gangster comedy Larceny, Inc. co-starring Edward G. Robinson.

with Jack Carson

From that point on Jane and Jack would team up for 3 more comedies: Princess O'Rourke (1943 with Olivia de Havilland); Make Your Own Bed (1944) and the classic screwball film The Doughgirls (1944) featuring an all-star cast of Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith, Eve Arden and Charlie Ruggles.

with Kay Kyser

Jane would also star in 1942's My Favorite Spy with Kay Kyser and Footlight Serenade with Betty Grable. So while she may be known more for her dramas and to be fair she did win an Oscar for Johnny Belinda, I think Jane was very underrated when it came to comedy and she was very good at it. Her chemistry with Jack Carson was a plus in those films and her willingness to be a team player in those other films only helped make her a better all around actress. Hats off to Jane Wyman, one of the best.

The Doughgirls: Eve Arden, Jane Wyman, Alexis Smith and Ann Sheridan

Check out this clip from Torchy Blane starring the first Torchy (Glenda Farrell) asking a slightly confused but funny Jane Wyman some questions. It's cool that Jane would later go on to play Torchy in one of the sequels.