“I Love You Again” (1940)

by A.J. Hakari

"I Love You Again" poster

 

Myrna Loy and William Powell really could do it all. Between the two, they assumed the roles of everything from suburbanites and temptresses to playboys and military men, parts each one inhabited convincingly while seemingly exhibiting the same personas every time. But together, Loy and Powell were all but unstoppable, forming one of the sharpest and most playful screen duos of their time. Of course, they’re best remembered for the Thin Man pictures, although they shared a number of collaborations outside of the franchise, including 1940’s I Love You Again. In lesser hands, this might have turned out to be a throwaway farce, but as is, it’s…well, it’s still a throwaway farce. But while I Love You Again is unabashed froth from beginning to end, its leads elevate the material to a much more exciting level than it could’ve been content staying at, as their chemistry goes a long way towards helping a humdrum plot spring to life.

Larry Wilson (Powell) is more stuffy than the poor animals on which he practices his taxidermy. He’s a real No-Fun Freddy, a cheapskate extraordinaire who’s never known a moment’s excitement in his life…or so he imagines. During a cruise, Larry meets an accident and gets conked on the head, triggering memories of a previous life he’d forgotten all about. In actuality, our boy is George Carey, a con artist left for dead after a double-cross. As soon as he sees how much dough “Larry” and his penny-pinching ways have netted him, George is back to his old tricks and sets out to fib his way to a fortune. There’s just one catch: Larry’s wife, Kay (Loy), wants a divorce, and such a scandal would blow the whole con to bits. But even more trouble arises when George starts to fall in love with Kay for real — a development almost as unexpected as Kay succumbing to the charms of her “husband” and rediscovering her own feelings for him.

I Love You Again is the sort of vehicle that just about every star of its era was cast in sooner or later. With some minor tweaking, one can easily imagine this being a showcase for Fred & Ginger or, if it were so dramatically inclined, Bogie & Bacall. Admittedly, I’m not sure I Love You Again would’ve been that drastically different had some other pair of popular performers at the time been featured instead, but the headliners it did seek out certainly aren’t hurting anything. Powell and Loy bring a certain element of class to the project, one that allows them to keep the outrageous premise relatively reined in. One sees the wave of improbable hijinks cresting often throughout the picture, but these two manage to tame it and produce the bare minimum of mugging. Barring some obligatory moments where the gimmick wears thin (where George’s obvious lack of knowledge about Larry’s world should’ve gotten him in deep trouble), the craziness remains fairly plausible, which is no easy task when amnesia ranks right up there with hypnosis as plot devices that yours truly can barely stomach.

Although it’s true that just about anyone could’ve been the leads in I Love You Again, these personalities truly are perfect fits for Loy and Powell. The latter can play a lovable scoundrel with the best of them, while the former excels as self-assured heroines with swoony sides. We don’t see much of Powell as a pre-head bonk Larry, but he gives a treat of a performance as George regardless, with half the fun coming from watching him trying to talk his way out of a sticky situation. In the meantime, Loy takes a thanklessly prototypical wife role and gives it a much-needed boost of personality. Kay is one tough cookie who doesn’t fall for George’s schmoozing right away, but when she starts inevitably warming up to the lug, it’s Loy’s tenderness that helps you buy it. These two kids receive some support in the form of Frank McHugh as one of George’s cohorts and Edmund Lowe as a swindler who wants in on the big con, but they tend to get drowned out by the stars’ rapport. Also, the movie does breeze by almost too quickly at times, glossing over such details as what the central scheme is all about and why certain characters seem to forgive acts of towering deception so easily.

I Love You Again doesn’t possess the cleverest witticisms or the most knee-slapping set pieces, but I’ll be damned if it’s not a charmer anyway. What makes one comedy an uninspired gag parade and another an amusing treat all comes down to execution, and in terms of timing, one-liners, and actors with a real grasp of the material, this one made out like a bandit. Movies like I Love You Again are a dime a dozen, but not all of them are as much of a pleasure to watch as this.

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