|Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
Run time: 105 min
Genres: Comedy | Music
Director: Preston Sturges
Writers: Preston Sturges
Stars: Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Rudy Vallee
Sir Alfred De Carter suspects his wife of infidelity. While conducting a symphony orchestra, he imagines three different ways of dealing with the situation. When the concert ends, he tries acting out his fantasies, but things do not go as well in reality as they did in his imagination. Written by John Oswalt <email@example.com>
Release Date: 10 December 1948 (USA)
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I was surprised to see only one comment on this film in your files. It’s been one of my all-time favorites since I was a youngster about the time it was made. Now that I’m reminded by looking it up here that it was a Preston Sturges film I can see why that’s so. His classic comedies were unique. It must be also one of Rex Harrison’s greatest films. Being a professional musician myself I can especially appreciate the symphonic ambience in which it takes place. I can also appreciate the possible parody Sturges might have had in mind of the great British conductor of those days, Sir Thomas Beecham. The greatest and most memorable visual effect of the movie (I’ve certainly remembered it all these years most vividly) happened when the Harrison character has to look up the directions for using the recording machine on which he was going to fake the evidence of his wife’s still being alive. Onto the screen flashes the most outrageously complex electrical diagram comprehensible only to a professional electrician. This symbolized the inability of modern man to cope with advanced technology. One of the most hilarious moments in film I’ve ever seen. More viewers should catch up with this one.
It is rare when a film is so funny that it will give me fits of belly laughter, and Unfaithfully Yours is one of them. Rex Harrison stars as an English aristocrat and eminent conductor who, despite being madly in love with his wife (played by Linda Darnell) realizes as a result of several misunderstandings that she may be cheating on him. While he is conducting a symphony concert he comes up with three different scenarios in his head of how to deal with her alleged duplicity. Actually carrying out these plans turns out to be an entirely different matter.
Preston Sturges is always an excellent writer and director, but his quick wit and double entendres are a revelation in this film. One almost has to watch it two or three times to get every comment uttered and facial expression portrayed by our protagonist (Harrison). His delivery is superb, sometimes almost funnier than the words he is saying. Darnell and the supporting cast provide excellent straight and slapstick moments. Dudley Moore starred in a remake of this film in the 80’s which was also enjoyable, but having now seen this film, I highly recommend the original over the remake. It is an hour and a half of pure delight.
Though he directed a few more movies over the years, Unfaithfully Yours was the last great hurrah from one of Hollywood’s greatest comedy writer-directors, Preston Sturges. But Lawdy, what a way to go out.
The movie stars Rex Harrison in what might be seen as a kinder, gentler cousin of his egomaniacal diction professor in My Fair Lady (1964). Here, Harrison is Sir Alfred de Carter, a world-renowned symphony conductor who is still astoundingly infatuated with the woman he refers to as his "bride," Daphne (charming Linda Darnell). The movie never declares how long or short of a time the Carters have been married, but judging from their passion level, one would guess they’re still in the honeymooning stage.
(The far more down-to-earth married couple, Alfred’s in-laws August and Barbara, are portrayed wonderfully by Rudy Vallee and Barbara Lawrence. Barbara gets all the great barbs off against her husband, who is only to happy to show his ignorance of them.)
One day, August accosts Alfred with the unfortunate news that he paid a detective to tail Daphne while Alfred was out of town. Alfred is so convinced of his wife’s fidelity that his reaction starts at outrage and goes haywire from there. Little by little, though, Alfred is given reason to think that Daphne might have needed some spying-on after all. At his concert that evening, Alfred conducts three pieces by Rossini, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner, and with each piece, Alfred imagines the stylish revenge he will extract upon Daphne for her presumed cheating.
From this sober-sounding scenario, Sturges–as he always did–goes all over the place, from sparkling dialogue to skittering slapstick to rich drenches of sentiment. And the melange has never worked better than it does here. Just for kicks, take three of the movie’s set-pieces: Alfred’s achingly funny dressing-down of August for siccing a detective on Daphne, the first fantasy where Alfred hatches an elaborate murder scheme, and Alfred’s drunken attempt to carry out the scheme. Three scenes of complete different tones, and they all plausibly fit into the same movie. Now try to imagine any modern-day comedy-maker whose work would display the wit of any of those scenes.
The Criterion Collection DVD of the movie does it full justice. It includes a seemingly irrelevant but nonetheless enjoyable critique of Sturges’ work from Monty Python alumnus Terry Jones. And an interview with Sturges’ widow Sandy, as well as copies of voluminous memoes to Sturges from uncredited producer Darryl Zanuck, demonstrate why the movie was initially a colossal box-office failure. Zanuck hounded Sturges to the point that the gifted creator of (to name but two) The Palm Beach Story and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek began doubting himself as a writer, resulting in the final humiliation of Zanuck cutting the film on his own. Then a timely scandal involving Rex Harrison forever killed the box-office chances of a black comedy starring Harrison as an ostensible woman-murderer.
Happily, Unfaithfully Yours, like Chaplin’s similarly dark Monsieur Verdoux, survived its prudish times and has become renowned as a great movie. Alfred’s take on Delius might be delirious (as professed by one of his fans, played by the great Sturges alumnus Edgar Kennedy)…but Sturges himself remains stupendous.
One of Director Preston Sturges’ most enjoyable films, Unfaithfully Yours is a dark comedy which uses the skills of it’s leading actors Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell, to perfection.
Harrison plays Sir Alfred De Carter, a famous symphony conductor who has recently wed the beautiful and much younger Daphne (Darnell). Upon returning from a successful concert tour, Sir Alfred is confronted by his brother-in-law August(Rudy Valle), whom he had charged to look after Daphne while he(Sir Alfred)was away. Merely wanting August to drop in on Daphne on occasion, Sir Alfred is shocked to find out that August instead, enlisted a private detective to shadow his wife around town. Outraged when presented with the detective’s file, Sir Alfred refuses to even look at it. However, he is eventually confronted with the sleuth’s findings, which to his chagrin, reveals that while he was away, Daphne made a very suspicious late night call to a man’s room wearing only a negligee. He is further devastated to find out that the rogue in question is his own right-hand man, Tony (Kurt Kreuger), a handsome, dapper fellow more closer in age to Daphne. Believing the worst, Sir Alfred’s pristine world is suddenly turned upside down, and he becomes a man consumed with jealousy and suspicion.
From here we watch Sir Alfred’s gradual meltdown as the thought of his wife’s infidelity haunts his every moment. Even the concert stage can’t provide him any solace. While performing before a sold out audience, his mind is less on the music and more on how he will deal with the adulterous duo. With his baton wailing wildly, his mind plays out various fantasies; his first thoughts are of murder, concocting an elaborate scheme which will leave Daphne dead and Tony framed as the killer. In another scenario he sees himself as the forgiving saintly husband, allowing his young wife to leave with his blessing, even going so far as to write her a check to cover their anticipated needs. Finally, he envisions himself cast him as the crazed, pitiful victim, confronting Daphne and Tony and committing suicide before their guilty eyes. As the music ends Sir Alfred has settled on murder as his method of revenge. He abruptly ends his performance and proceeds to put his plan into effect. Hilariously, nothing seems to go quite as smoothly as it had in his vision.
Harrison is masterful as the prim and proper husband who becomes the green-eyed monster bent on revenge. Under Sturges direction, Harrison succeeds in conveying the frailty of the male ego, when faced with the possibility that the little lady may have found the grass a little greener in the neighbor’s yard. Darnell as Daphne looks ravishing as the suspected spouse. She ably plays innocent enough to draw doubts about her husband’s charges, yet sexy enough to make you believe that the accusations just might be true. A very entertaining movie, I would definitely recommend Unfaithfully Yours particularly for Rex Harrison fans, as this is one of his finest performances.