Actress Irene Dunne, who died on this day in 1990, didn't look like a likely candidate for the lead role in romantic comedies. She was handsome rather than pretty, and she was in her late thirties herself when she co-starred with Cary Grant in the 1937 film The Awful Truth (in fact, she was more than five years older than Grant). The three leads shown in the above photo all had roles in romantic or screwball comedies before The Awful Truth: Dunne starred in the screwball comedy Theodora Goes Wild, Grant was the suave costar in Topper, and Skippy, aka Asta, made a name for himself in the Thin Man series of films.
The Awful Truth is one of my favorite romantic comedies from the 1930s. It's part of a subgenre known as the comedy of remarriage: the romantic leads are usually together at the beginning of the film, separated by misunderstandings or unfortunate events, and then somehow manage to reunite on some level by the film's end. (I'm not spoiling the movie -- anyone who's seen more than one film knows how romantic comedies end). Grant and Dunne's characters have to split custody of their adorable dog when they divorce; meanwhile, the oilman played by Ralph Bellamy, whose characters never get the girl, tries to replace Grant in Dunne's heart. (I'm very fond of the scene in which Bellamy recites her a poem he's written.) My only complaint is that Asta doesn't get enough screen time near the end of the film; he should have been included in the movie's resolution, although I can't imagine how it would be managed. Sadly, The Awful Truth was one of the last comedies directed by Leo McCarey (Duck Soup) -- his later films included Love Affair, Going My Way, and An Affair to Remember.