Ah, Cary Grant. I cannot think of a single movie he has starred in that I have not enjoyed. I have not seen too many of them, but they have all been enjoyable. Most people remember him for his role in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 classic North by Northwest, and deservedly so. However, he was also terrific in comedic roles, and it is in this genre that I prefer him. Part of this has to do with his latent English mannerisms being put in the most outrageous situations and reacting to them with a combination of wit and stuttering. This largely characterizes him in today’s film I Was a Male War Bride (1949).
In I Was a Male War Bride, Cary Grant plays Captain Henri Rochard, a French officer in Allied occupied Germany tasked with performing various missions regarding the rebuilding of the war torn country. I suppose because this is in the wake of World War II, the militaries of the various nations see fit to pair male and female officers to complete these tasks. Rochard shows up at an American office looking for a new lady to take with him to some quaint German hamlet to put a stop to an upstart black market. In past endeavors, he had worked with First Lieutenant Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan), and he was not eager to go back out with her again. Apparently in their previous outing she had managed to push him into a vat of blue dye, and some of that color remained. Despite these reservations, they are ordered to be together again. What proceeds are a series of increasingly more overt gender role reversals that are quite humorous. The first is their transportation to Bad Nauheim, the town previously mentioned. Because there are no cars available, they must take a motorcycle, though Rochard is not rated to operate it. Thus he must ride sidecar while Gates drives them along. Once they finally reach their destination, it ends up being Gates that completes the mission. Even though they bicker and banter with each other, their experiences convince them that they are in love, and they decide to get married. Army regulations, though, make this situation complicated. The first one is how they need to get married by a local German official, an American officer, and a French priest, meaning they have three weddings to go through. But the biggest potential roadblock is getting Rochard to the United States. After their marriage, he leaves the French military, but she remains in the American armed forces. To make matters worse, her unit has been ordered to return to the United States. Now, since this is peacetime, having military spouses is not uncommon and they are typically provided for by their respective government. But because this is the late 1940s, the convention is for male officers to have wives for which to arrange accommodations. To get Rochard to America, Gates discovers a loophole in the regulations in a form usually reserved for women, essentially making him a war bride. Armed with a piece of paper declaring this status, and the oft repeated phrase “I am an alien spouse of female military personnel en route to the United States under public law 271 of the Congress,” they make their way through a series of confused looks to the ship that will take them across the Atlantic. They have one last hurdle to clear, though, when the Navy personnel on the vessel they were boarding did not accept the veracity of the story since Rochard clearly could not be a “bride.” Thus they dress Rochard up like a woman, and eventually they make it to their destination.
You might think that as a Catholic reviewer watching I Was a Male War Bride I would object to the subverting of traditional male and female roles as seen in this movie. People, mainly non-Catholics, make too much of the proscribed modes of behavior for men and women as has been handed down through the millennia. The Bible says nothing about a man being better than a woman in any sort of qualifying way. It is clear on how they are different, and how those differences should be celebrated, not denigrated, as they help reveal the greatness of God’s plan. Gates and Rochard are good for each other not because she is some pioneering woman for gender equality, being an officer and the leader through the whole process of his immigration. That is all fine and dandy, but not really the point. They are a match because they compliment each other with comparable wits. The rest is up to God. Hence, though it is played for laughs, I admire the lengths that he will go to for her to be willing to dress as a woman for his wife.
I recommend I Was a Male War Bride not for the gender bending, but in general because it is a fun movie with some great lines. I can get bored with too much dialog in a scene unless it is like it is here where it is witty and funny. The back and forth between Rochard and Gates is consistently good, such as when she tells him that she can ride a motorcycle and he wonders what for. That is just one of many such chucklesome moments. The other aspect that is of interest for this historian is to see the shots of post-war Germany. The film is set there, and they did a great deal of the principle shooting there, and it is pretty neat to see.