A 1940 Romantic Comedy film directed by Wesley Ruggles, starring Jean Arthur, Fred MacMurray, and Melvyn Douglas. Based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham—which in turn was loosely based on the Narrative Poem Enoch Arden by Alfred, Lord Tennyson—Too Many Husbands came out just a couple of months before another movie adapted from the same source material: My Favorite Wife.
A year after her husband Bill (MacMurray) has been reported drowned in a boating accident, Vicky Cardew (Arthur) has married his business partner and best friend, Henry Lowndes (Douglas). As Bill's name is being removed from the office doors, Vicky's father George (Harry Davenport) receives a phone call from Bill and is shocked to learn that he is alive. For the past year, Bill has been marooned on a Deserted Island and is now eager to return home to his wife. Bill tells his father-in-law that he will be arriving in town that night by airplane.
Vicky and Henry go to the airport to meet Bill, but neither one can summon the nerve to tell him what has happened. As Bill makes plans to spend his first night with his wife, they finally tell him the truth. Trouble begins when both husbands begin lavishing love and attention on their mutual wife, who refuses to decide between them and instead does her best to keep them both on equal terms.
When the husbands become pals for a night and walk out on Vicky to teach her a lesson, she calls the police. When asked her relationship to the missing men, she answers without thinking, "My husbands." Bill and Henry return eventually, but Vicky is unable to conceal her illegal living arrangement from the police and is hauled off to court. Although a judge decides that Bill is Vicky's legal husband, Henry refuses to admit defeat and continues to court her. Both men vow to keep Vicky happy in the future and share a dance with her to show the sincerity of their intentions.
The film profides examples of these tropes:
- Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Vicky married Henry six months after Bill was declared dead.
- Accidental Adultery: Accidental bigamy of the Thought You Were Dead variety.
- Drowning Our Romantic Sorrows: Bill and Henry do this offscreen when they both get fed up with Vicky's inability to make a decision.
- First Guy Wins: Subverted. Henry is introduced onscreen first, and Bill was Vicky's first husband, but neither guy really "wins."
- Her Heart Will Go On: Vicky was an example of this before Bill returned.
- Legally Dead: Bill Cardew.
- Love Triangle: Vicky loves both Bill and Henry. They both love her, and they are best friends with each other, but each wants Vicky exclusively.
- Married to the Job: Henry is in danger of becoming this, until Bill returns.
- Ms. Imagination: Miss Houlihan, the secretary at Lowndes and Cardew, was in love with both Bill and Henry herself; she fantasized about being Vicky and marrying both of them. She also becomes Ms. Exposition when she confesses her fantasies to Vicky, as she goes through the sequence of events leading up to the start of the play.
- Never Found the Body: Bill was declared dead on the basis of a Coast Guard's report.
- Oops! I Forgot I Was Married
- Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Bill.
- Romancing the Widow: Henry won Vicky's heart this way.
- Saying Too Much: When Bill and Henry stay out all night, Vicky calls the police in an attempt to locate them. When asked her relationship to the two men, she answers, "They're my husbands" before she realizes what she's said. Cue some very persistent policemen investigating possible bigamy.
- Second Love: Henry, for Vicky.
- Two Guys and a Girl: Bill/Vicky/Henry.