Henri Rochard (Cary Grant), a captain in the French Army, is a man with a mission. With some difficulty he travels through Heidelberg, a city recovering from the war, to head for Lieutenant Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan) at her post in the American Army base there, with even the doors to the offices providing him with problems. He does find her eventually, and once he has he unloads a pile of her clothes he accidentally received onto her desk, something which she is most offended about as she thinks her colleagues will believe there is something going on between them. And there isn't. Yet.
I Was a Male War Bride has fallen out of favour with some over the years since its hit release, at one time it was the eptiome of sophisticated screwball comedy, if that makes sense, but now it's often regarded as a rambling affair with a transvestite punchline. However, one man who thought it was the best comedy Cary Grant ever made, or at least one of the top ones, was Cary Grant himself, as he evidently relished the chance to send up his image as a smooth bachelor. Director Howard Hawks thought he would be perfect for this role, and it was tailored to suit his style, but also to make sure that Grant's character was effectively put through the wringer.
The comedy wringer, that was, and while some see the star as looking too embarrassed to be truly sidesplitting, others recognise it is that humour stemming from Rochard's humiliation that makes for some very funny interludes. Not that the film was consistently hilarious, you have to admit, but it did feature plenty of bright spots in a story that was the merest wisp of romantic set-up and for the rest, the chance to work towards putting Grant into a skirt and stockings for the grand finale. Of course, such a role did nothing to dispel the gay rumours that flitted around the actor, but that was never something that seemed to bother him too much.
Indeed, it was the fact that Grant was so comfortable in his sexuality, straight as he was, that was a big part of the jokes here. Time and again Rochard suffers an affront to his accustomed gender role, as while he starts the story acting the boorish womaniser, Hawks punished him for that hubris for the rest of the movie. We can see where this is heading when Henri and Catherine, bickering all the while, wind up forced to take a mission to track down a missing scientist, and she pulls on her trousers to ride the motorcycle while he is relegated to the sidecar, sitting primly as Catherine drives him about, and drives him up the wall to boot. With Sheridan, Grant had one of his finest romantic leading ladies.
Not to mention one of his finest comic foils, for she was able to match his wit with her charm, so that by the time they actually admit they not only like but love each other, we're happy to see their union win the day. Except the U.S. Army have something to say about that, and Hawks made great play of setting up the establishment as a behemoth of red tape and bureaucracy: if the film has a villain, it's this endless form filling and regulations that are such an impediment to true love and contentment. Of course, the film itself fell afoul of the authorities who found the film far too saucy, and Hawks was made to edit it, yet you can still watch it today and pick up on the double entendres and risque situations and dialogue; Henri and Catherine even have a roll in the hay at one point, but have to pay for it once their wedding night comes along and they cannot get together thanks to the top brass standing in their way. Sexual frustration does provide fertile ground for comedy, and I Was a Male War Bride showed that with flair. Music by Cyril Mockridge.