*½/**** Image B Sound B Extras C+
starring Carole Lombard, Robert Montgomery, Harry E. Edington, Gene Raymond
screenplay by Norman Krasna
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
by Walter Chaw Even a cursory glance at Alfred Hitchcock's favoured themes would find the idea of rules--particularly as they're expressed by written forms of communication--to be the ineffectual rein seeking to subdue the protean tumult of human identity, greed, and passion. The way that books hide the body in Rope, for instance; the newspaper headlines discovered too late in Shadow of a Doubt; the contracts and penny dreadfuls of Suspicion; Norman Bates's hotel book; the profession of Foreign Correspondent; Carlotta's engraved headstone and Mozart's mathematical structure in Vertigo; Melanie's birthday wishes in The Birds; the beckoning empty cages in Rutland's house in Marnie; or how the lines of a ledger page predict North by Northwest's astonishing play on humans reduced to numbers before a brilliant bit of business involving a message written inside a matchbook cover. In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Hitchcock pairs with good friend Carole Lombard (on her second-to-last film before a plane crash ended her life), a prototypical Hitchcock blonde for whom the term "screwball comedy" was invented, to produce what's widely seen as an anomaly in Hitchcock's career: a slapstick romantic imbroglio. And indeed, the film is different from nearly anything Hitchcock ever did (though it shares a similar plot with Rich and Strange and a similar antic energy with The Trouble with Harry), but not because it deviates from his themes. Rather, Mr. and Mrs. Smith seems to be a film that outlines what it is exactly about rules and written communication that Hitchcock perceives to be so fundamentally unstable and misleading.