I Was a Male War Bride (1949)


(director: Howard Hawks; screenwriters: Hagar Wilde/Leonard Spigelgass/Charles Lederer/ from a story by Henri Rochard; cinematographer: Osmond H. Borradaile; editor: James B. Clark; music: Cyril Mockridge; cast: Cary Grant (Capt. Henri Rochard), Ann Sheridan (Lt. Catherine Gates), Randy Stuart (Mae), William Neff (Capt. Jack Rumsey), Marion Marshall (Lt. Kitty Lawrence), Eugene Gericke (Tony Jowitt), Kenneth Tobey (Seaman); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sol C. Siegel; Twentieth-Century Fox; 1949)

High-spirited subversive loosely structured comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Howard Hawks (“Rio Bravo”/”Scarface”/”Bringing Up Baby”) directs this high-spirited subversive loosely structured comedy. It was a box office smash. The comedy is built on a number of sight gags, the battle between the sexes, the reversal of sexual roles that proves humiliating to the male and that love overcomes military red tape at the end of World War II. It’s loosely based on a true story by Henri Rochard and written by Hagar Wilde, Leonard Spigelgass and Charles Lederer.

Capt. Henri Rochard (Cary Grant) is a French army officer stationed in Germany during the wartime occupation (it was shot on location), who in his last assignment before his discharge is assigned to go to Heidelberg and travel with a German interpreter, the American WAC lieutenant Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan). Their destination is Bad Nauheim, where the two go by motorcycle and sidecar. Only Cathy is to be the driver since the captain hasn’t been cleared to drive a motorcycle. They bicker along the way, and in a mixup over a black market raid Henri is arrested. Cathy thereby completes the assignment alone to get a German lens grinder to work for the Allies in France instead of the black market. Afterwards she secures an irate Henri’s jail release. By the time they return to Heidelberg, they have fallen in love. Cathy and Henri struggle to overcome the military red tape and end up getting married in three different ceremonies. However, Cathy is ordered back to the United States before they can consummate the marriage in a biblical sense. It’s determined that the only way Henri can get a visa to emigrate with her is under the War Bride Act (even if there is no provision for war grooms). Though Henri finally can sail with Cathy to the States, he still hasn’t slept with her. To do this Henri dresses in drag, but he’s caught and arrested. Cathy again comes to his rescue and clears up the misunderstanding, and the couple find themselves alone at last in Henri’s shipboard jail cell and consummate the marriage.

From the moment Henri becomes a war bride, he undergoes a constant affront to his dignity and suffers the final indignity as he finds that the only way to beat the bureaucracy is to dress up as a woman. It’s a stretch to think that Cary’s French, but it’s almost impossible to believe that he’s a woman (that was done on purpose, as Cary acted like a man who put on a dress and wore a wig made out of a horse’s tail). As a fluff work of entertainment it fits in nicely with other screwball comedies of that period, and it also makes a strong case that the American women emasculates her men (a part of the film that rubbed some viewers the wrong way).