When we meet Nicholas Arden (James Garner), he is preparing to get married. But his marriage is no ordinary one. It is his second, and his first ended five years ago, when his wife Ellen (Doris Day) was lost and presumed dead in a plane crash.
Raising he and Ellen’s two kids on his own since her disappearance, Nick is desperate to move on and build a new life for himself, so he has Ellen declared legally dead (her remains were never found) and plans on marrying a woman named Bianca (Polly Bergen).
Things seem to be going just as planned for Nick and Bianca… until Ellen is discovered alive and returns to Los Angeles with the help of the Navy. Shocked to find that Nick is remarried, Ellen schemes to get her husband and her life back after five years stranded on a South Pacific island.
Michael Gordon directs Move Over, Darling, a 1963 remake of My Favorite Wife (1940), which starred Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in the roles of Nick and Ellen. In addition to being a re-make of the 1940 film, Move Over, Darling is also based on the script of Something’s Got to Give, the planned remake that became Marilyn Monroe’s final, unfinished film.
The film opens with a title song performed, of course, by Doris Day. She’s one of my favorite singers and I always enjoy listening to her. The song is the absolute definition of “delightful” and a great way to open the film.
Unfortunately, things are a bit rocky from there, or at least were for my viewing. My Favorite Wife is one of my all-time favorite films, starring two of my all-time favorite performers, and I knew it would be hard for this remake to measure up. (Stay tuned for a “Favorite Things About…” post on that film tomorrow!)
To start, the initial courtroom scene is not quite as funny. Cary Grant had a great, natural banter as Nick, verbally sparring with the judge handling both the death declaration and Nick’s new marriage. Garner and his judge aren’t quite as natural, making the scene less enjoyable to watch than it as in the original film. (This is somewhat redeemed later on in the film, when Nick ends up in court again, with both wives in tow.)
Unlike Garner, Doris Day comes closer to matching her predecessor in terms of performance. Her performance is the best in the film, and along with Thelma Ritter’s performance as Nick’s mother, comes close to matching the original film’s greatness. And to think, Day had cracked ribs during part of the film’s production! She was a trouper, and even with her injuries manages to steal the film.
Another bright spot in terms of performance comes from Don Knotts, who makes a very small appearance as the shoe store clerk Ellen hires to pretend that he was on the island with her. (In reality, she was on the island with a much more classically handsome man; they jokingly nicknamed each other “Adam” and “Eve.”)
The script is quite witty and includes a few fun nods to the history of the film’s story. I love the joke that Ellen makes, telling her husband’s new wife about “that old Cary Grant and Irene Dunne movie” about a missing wife who returns and wins back her husband. Hmm, to which film could she be referring there, I wonder?
Move Over, Darling is a decent remake — not quite as funny or charming as My Favorite Wife, but still a pretty good watch. Though the film’s leading man doesn’t impress as much as Cary Grant in the role of good ol’ Nicky Arden, there are a few very good performances, and Doris Day carries the film wonderfully. The score: 3.5/5