I Was a Male War Bride plays on Sunday at BAM’s ongoing Cary Grant series.
Hawks’ dramas effect an order of work and duty around a void; Hawks’ comedies plunge into it as all the civilized terms men have chosen to erect an identity become as slippery and tangled as a pun. The dramas latch onto single locales, but both fill the screen out with upper body shot-reverse shots, meted to human proportion, as the comedies move the characters through a spread of disposable locations that seem to turn around the stable, human coordinates of the film as the leads learn to be themselves. I Was a Male War Bride, a comedy filmed as a drama, portraying nonsense—about Cary Grant, in drag, being humiliated—as a series of forthright facts, is a good enough example of Hawks’ plain-speaking materialism: his perpetual motion going nowhere, his sense of love as a workable process like herding cattle, and his humiliating divide between old society good-old-boy theory (the terms) and practice, the black hole of a liberated world: “You see, you chase after anything in skirts, anything,” says the film’s love disinterest, Ann Sheridan. “They’re all the same to you. But lots of men can tell them apart. Believe me, sometimes they find one they like better than the others. That’s called love. You probably haven’t experienced but you must have read about it somewhere.”