‘An Innocent Affair’ from 1948: The Importance of Honesty

‘An Innocent Affair’ from 1948: The Importance of Honesty
"An Innocent Affair" lobby card. (MovieStillsDB)
Tiffany Brannan

If you are familiar with old movies, you probably know about the big-name pictures like “Gone with the Wind,” “Casablanca,” and “The Maltese Falcon.” If you’re something of a fan, you know the names, faces, and biggest hits of the major stars from the 1930s-50s or whatever time period of films you consider to be classic. However, even the most ardent, TCM-watching, Warner Archive-subscribing, line-quoting old movie lover is bound to discover, upon reading the IMDb filmography of a classic star, that there are still countless old movies of which he has never even heard. These include not only obscure B pictures with lesser-known actors from Poverty Row studios but major studio films with A-list stars.

An example of such a film is “An Innocent Affair” from 1948, which was later re-released under the title “Don’t Trust Your Husband.” It stars Fred MacMurray, Madeleine Carroll, and Rita Johnson, and it was released by United Artists.

This is a short feature film, clocking in at only one hour and twenty-seven minutes. It has some common romantic comedy themes, but the treatment is fresh and includes some very pertinent messages and themes which are still true today and perhaps even more relevant than in the 1940s.

Fred MacMurray in "Above Suspicion," by Richard Thorpe from 1943. (Public Domain)
Fred MacMurray in "Above Suspicion," by Richard Thorpe from 1943. (Public Domain)

After Happily Ever After

This movie begins where many films’ plots end, after the wedding ceremony. In fact, the story starts on the main characters’ fifth wedding anniversary. Vincent (MacMurray) and Paula (Carroll) Doane live in a lovely New York apartment with his sister, Eve (Johnson), a divorcee who is Paula’s best friend. The Doanes’ hitherto happy marriage is in jeopardy now. Vincent is sneaking in at dawn, pretending he just got up early for a pre-work golf game when his wife catches him. He isn’t fooling her for a minute with his explanations of having constant meetings with Mr. Fraser for the last two weeks. Paula’s suspicions that her husband has been meeting with a woman are right, but her husband isn’t cheating on her. He is in fact trying to land an advertising contract with an important potential client, but it’s Mrs. Fraser. Vincent knows that he has done nothing wrong, but he’s afraid that Paula will suspect the worst because Margot Fraser (Louise Allbritton), a wealthy widow who owns a perfume company, is his former fiancée, who wants to rekindle their romance.

At Eve’s suggestion, Paula hires an actor to flirt with her at their anniversary dinner, hopefully making Vincent jealous. However, the agency tips him off beforehand to avoid a scene. To play a trick on her, Vincent pretends to be perfectly fine with Southern gentleman Claude Kimball’s (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) flirting with her. He invites Claude over to their table, and they have a jolly time together while Paula tries to encourage the stranger to flirt with her. Little do they know that their check-grabbing friend is not an actor but the real Kimball, a cigarette tycoon who ended up at the next table by mistake. When Paula discovers the truth about Claude, she finds herself in a tricky predicament, caught between her husband and this wealthy admirer.

Photo of actress Madeleine Carroll in 1938. (Public Domain)
Photo of actress Madeleine Carroll in 1938. (Public Domain)

A Tangled Web

Shakespeare is often quoted as having written, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” It actually is from Walter Scott’s epic poem “Marmion,” and it could be applied to the characters in this film. All the problems in this begin because, after five years of marriage, Vincent doesn’t tell his wife the whole truth. This is not because he wants to deceive her but because he thinks she won’t believe the truth. Obviously, Vincent thinks she doesn’t trust him enough to believe that his frequent meetings with Margot Fraser are just business. However, this reveals that he doesn’t trust her, either. He doesn’t trust her enough to tell her the truth and let her have faith in him. By lying to her, he arouses her suspicions. When she realizes that he has lied to her, she assumes the worst and jumps to conclusions about another woman.

Later in the film, Paula finds out that “Mr. Fraser” is a lovely young woman, which was inevitable. Instead of telling her the whole truth at that point and assuring her of his fidelity, Vincent opts to tell her another lie, which she doesn’t believe. Later, he tries a few different schemes to win her back. First, he tries to convince her that there really is a Mr. Fraser. Then, he confesses to a made-up weekend getaway with Margot. However, he never thinks to try telling her what really happened. This mistake almost destroys their happy marriage.

Paula also is guilty of not trusting her spouse, since she is quick to believe the worst about Vincent. Rather than confronting him about her suspicions, she assumes that he is being unfaithful. She matches his deceptions with some of her own by hiring a phony suitor to make him jealous. Although such tricks and games make for funny movie situations, they don’t make for a trusting marriage for the Doanes.

Actor Charles "Buddy" Rogers in 1928. (Public Domain)
Actor Charles "Buddy" Rogers in 1928. (Public Domain)

Laughter and Love

This is a funny, delightful movie about a married couple who learn that honesty is the best policy, although learning this lesson almost costs them their marriage. Along the way, they meet Claude Kimball, a very unusual, interesting character. He is obviously attracted to Paula as soon as he sees her, but he has no intention of acting upon his feelings, since he has respect for the Doanes’ marriage. He enjoys befriending the couple, not realizing that they both think he is an actor. Claude is shocked by Paula’s forward behavior, but he never suspects that their marriage is having difficulties.

Fred MacMurray performs this kind of comedy effortlessly. His fumbling, overwrought manner and explosive delivery is perfect for scenes where he is comically angry. Madeleine Carroll offsets his boisterous intensity with her refined air of superiority. Just the right amount of wisecracking is provided by Rita Johnson, in one of her less acidic roles, who always has a witty remark.

“An Innocent Affair” is perfect for when you want a fun, lighthearted film which still has some substance. It’s delightfully silly, but it isn’t the stuff of nonsense. It’s a charming tale which reminds us that no relationship, whether it’s a romance, friendship, or a family, can flourish unless it’s based on honesty and trust.

Tiffany Brannan is a 22-year-old opera singer, Hollywood historian, vintage fashion enthusiast, and conspiracy film critic, advocating purity, beauty, and tradition on Instagram as @pure_cinema_diva. Her classic film journey started in 2016 when she and her sister started the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society to reform the arts by reinstating the Motion Picture Production Code. She launched Cinballera Entertainment last summer to produce original performances which combine opera, ballet, and old films in historic SoCal venues.
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