I Love You Again (1940)
Release Date: August 9th, 1940 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: W.S. Van Dyke Actors: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Frank McHugh, Edmund Lowe, Nella Walker, Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer
he winning team of William Powell and Myrna Loy is enough to warrant interest in any film, and “I Love You Again” (based on the novel by Octavus Roy Cohen) boasts an immensely curious premise and delivers some truly sensational moments constructed on the typically hilarious mayhem surrounding amnesia. But the humor isn’t as consistent as in their most popular screwball comedies (“Libeled Lady,” “The Thin Man”), Powell’s dialogue feels occasionally forced, and the supporting characters don’t seem to contribute to the hilarity as often as they should. This is especially apparent when severe subplots surface, taking the film in a serious direction too frequently for the lighthearted chemistry of the lead romantic duo to overcome.
It’s 1940 and boring businessman Larry Wilson (William Powell) is vacationing on a pleasure cruise, drinking his ginger ale and grape juice and irking the men at the bar with tales of his hometown. When inebriated passenger “Doc” Ryan (Frank McHugh) falls off the ship, Wilson dives in after him and suffers a blow to the head (from the rescuers). Now a hero with the indebted Ryan at his side, Wilson is also suddenly awoken from a shocking nine years of amnesia. In an incredibly unique twist and a brilliant start to a story, he doesn’t undergo the effects of long-term memory loss, but rather comes out of it.
Forgetting everything that has happened to him as the pathetic Larry, he is now (or reverts back to) George Carey, a con man who quickly thinks of how to profit from Larry’s situation. Aided by Doc Ryan, a swindler himself who was planning to go straight after his rescue, George returns to Habersville, Pennsylvania to take over $100,000 of Larry’s funds. Upon his arrival, however, he discovers that the money is part of a community chest, he owes money to the bank, and he’s married to the captivating Kay (Myrna Loy). Adapting to the life of Larry isn’t easy; he also learns that Kay is divorcing him, he’s the manager of a local pottery shop, he loves taxidermy, and he’s an unadventurous penny-pincher – all reasons why Kay is leaving him. Instantly infatuated by her beauty and challenged by her rejection, he struggles between going through with an elaborate, profitable bunco (involving fooling the richest townsfolk into purchasing worthless land) and convincing Kay to fall in love with him again.
William Powell plays his characteristic role, full of slapstick, nuttiness, and childish yet suave aplomb. His mendacious stories pile up, leading to enjoyably over-the-top solutions for grave predicaments. Loy again compliments his performance as the sternly authoritative woman who keeps him in line while looking radiant, providing believable reasoning in a wildly screwball plot. Though the inimitable duo is usually at the top of their game, the scripting here isn’t nearly as clever or humorous as when they traded sarcastic quips as Nick and Nora Charles (both “The Thin Man” and “I Love You Again” were directed by W.S. Van Dyke). But with the foolproof amnesia twist, the film does offer several moments in which George must pretend to be familiar with Larry’s life that are truly laugh-out-loud funny (a trumpeting scene takes the cake), and can be proudly added to the greatest gags in the comedy team’s repertoire.
– Mike Massie