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Classic Woman-centric Movie Review: I Was a Male War Bride

Hello, Persephoneers! It’s been a very long week for me, as I’m sure it has been for all of you, so this week’s classic movie pick is going to be light and humorous. I Was a Male War Bride, which stars Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan, was released in 1947 and was directed by Howard Hawks, who is well known for his comedies.

Believe it or not, the movie is based on the biography of Henri Rochard, I Was an Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Act 271 of the Congress. Henri was a Belgian who married an American nurse stationed in Europe in the days following the war.

Henri Rochard (Grant), a French army captain, must recruit a lens maker working on the black market and bring him to France. Cathy Gates (Sheridan), an American lieutenant, is to act as his chauffeur since they’ll be traveling by motorcycle. Much to Henri’s chagrin, he has to ride in the side car while she commandeers the motorcycle. The couple bickers throughout the journey, and once they arrive at their destination in Germany, Henri is locked in Cathy’s hotel room and has to spend a sleepless night in a chair. When the innkeeper’s wife comes in to apologize for the inconvenience, Henri must hide on a window ledge so that no one thinks they hooked up during the previous night. He ends up falling off of the window ledge, which hurts his pride more than anything else.

I Was a Male War Bride poster
Poster from the film. Image via Wikipedia.org.

Still smarting from the wound to his ego, Henri undergoes an undercover mission to recruit the lens maker. He insists that he doesn’t need Cathy’s help and asks for her to go so far as to pretend not to know him. After a successful mission, Henri is captured by the military police when the black market is raided. Henri begs her to vouch for his identity, but she follows his orders and doesn’t. She does, however, find the lens maker, who helps explain the situation to the police, resulting in Henri’s release. During their return journey to Heidelberg, the two fall in love and decide to get married, and they go through three different ceremonies – army, church, and civil – so that their union is recognized. Before they get time alone together, Cathy receives news that she is supposed to report back to the United States the following day. The only way that Henri can go with her is to enter the country under Public Act 271 as a male war bride. Because the situation is unusual, it’s mishandled, and this puts the couple in many inconvenient, and funny, situations.

In the film, much of the humor comes not from the singularity of the marital union, but from government agencies’ inability to handle the situation. It pokes fun at the assumptions made about marital unions formed during war, that most of the time it was the American soldier bringing home the foreign bride he had met during his time in another country. It also pokes fun at contemporaneous idea that somehow it would be less likely for a woman to bring home a spouse they met and married during the war than a man. It’s the unimaginative mindset of the bureaucracy and its inability to make allowances for unexpected situations that brings the humor and commentary. Perhaps Hawks was a little ahead of his time and was hinting that going back to strictly defined gender roles wasn’t the best idea at all, and that maybe society should embrace the changes that the war has brought with it. Of course, the average men’s rights activist today wouldn’t see any of this; he would only see Henri as a victim of misandry.

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