It’s Frank McHugh‘s birthday today! I suppose I could honor him by listing all of his movies, plays and TV shows, but we can get that list here. Instead, I wanted to write about the fun of watching him along side my all-time favorite onscreen pair, William Powell and Myrna Loy, in I Love You Again, 1940. I’m crazy about this movie. Powell and Loy’s, witty chemistry, combined with the genuinely lovable character McHugh brings to ‘Doc’ Ryan, makes this a perfect movie to me.
Birthday boy Francis Curray McHugh was born May 23, 1898 in Homestead, Pennsylvania. His life was devoted to acting from an early age. At 10, he started performing in his parent’s theater troupe with his sister Kitty and brother, Matt. At 17, he left his parent’s company to join the Marguerite Bryant Players. From there, he went on to be the juvenile and stage manager at the Empire Theater in Pittsburgh. He then joined the Keith and Orpheum circuits and in 1925, he debuted on Broadway in The Fall Guy.” In 1929 Frank McHugh married actress Dorothy Spencer. They had three children and remained married until his death on September 11, 1981.
It was in 1930 that Frank was hired as a contract player at Warner Brothers. From this point forward, he almost always played a version of the role he played in I Love You Again – a sweet, funny, likable sidekick to the leading actor’s character. He was pals on and off screen with dozens of actors like Humphrey Bogart, Pat O’Brien and James Cagney McHugh holds his own with all of them, and generally steals the scenes he’s in with his comedic delivery. He does that here too.
I Love You Again was directed by W.S. Van Dyke II (yes, the same W.S. Van Dyke that directed the first four Thin Man Movies) for MGM in 1940. Three of my all-time favorite actors, together in a W.S. Van Dyke-directed movie is paradise for me!
Larry Wilson (Powell) is a teetotaling, stuffed-shirt, do-gooder who gets on everyone’s nerves with his cheapskate ways. We meet him as he’s sailing home on the S.S. Falkness from a business trip. He’s insufferable and we’re already sick of him a few minutes into the movie when an extremely drunk Doc Ryan (McHugh) rescues us. Ryan, clearly a troublemaker, antagonizes Wilson in the ship’s bar. Ryan is really drunk and desperate to prove to Wilson that he isn’t. To do this, he decides to walk the “tightrope” atop the railing of the ship “blindfolded.” Oh boy. Wilson tries to stop him, reminding him that he’s “inebriated” but Ryan is determined to prove he’s fine and ends up falling overboard anyway.
Larry Wilson jumps in to save Ryan’s life. When rescuers come to bring them both back aboard the ship, one of them slams an oar onto Wilson’s head. That conk on the head turns Wilson back into George Carey – the man he really is AND was before he took another blow to the head in a fight nine years earlier. Once George Carey is back, he doesn’t remember one second of his life as Larry Wilson. Meanwhile, Doc Ryan is with him and so grateful to Wilson for saving his life that he’s decided to “go straight” and commit himself to Wilson for life. Wilson, now Carey, has no idea what Ryan is talking about. Thankfully, they figure it out together for all of us…
“I’ve had amnesia. A blow to the head can make you forget your entire past. You can live on for years, maybe the rest of your life as somebody else, unless a shock or another blow brings you back to your right self.” – George Carey (William Powell)
….and once they do, they realize how much they had in common nine years ago, before that first bump on the head. As it turns out they have a grifter’s life in common and they love it. With this new common ground, they come up with a plan to milk everything they can out of Larry Wilson’s life. All those bank accounts they discovered in Larry Wilson’s wallet provoked them to get moving on to Wilson’s beloved Habersville where they planned to get away with Wilson’s fortune.
Until Kay meets them at the dock when the ship gets home. Kay is Larry Wilson’s wife. She had heard about the rescue, and even though she plans to divorce Larry and marry Herbert (Donald Douglas), she meets him to bring him home anyway. She doesn’t realize Larry doesn’t exist anymore. And George Carey doesn’t realize she’s his wife. He is stunned to learn he’s really married to her at all. Doc Ryan’s and Carey’s plan hits a wall before it ever gets started.
They rethink everything, all while Carey is trying to convince Kay to stay married to him.
I Love You Again is a screwball comedy. Powell and Loy are as good together as ever. Frank McHugh is fantastic. The way he smoothly delivers his lines along side the engaging chemistry of Bill and Myrna makes this movie pure joy.
I really don’t want to give away any more of the story. I Love You Again is a fun movie to discover, especially the first time. I find it so satisfying. It makes me feel good and laugh out loud and Frank McHugh is a big reason why.
I can’t love it enough!
Frank McHugh, born on this day, 122 years ago, in 1898