movie film review | chris tookey

Unfaithfully Yours

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  Unfaithfully Yours Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.42 /10
Rex Harrison , Linda Darnell , Barbara Lawrence
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Directed by: Preston Sturges
Written by: Preston Sturges

Released: 1948
Origin: US
Colour: BW
Length: 105

A conductor (Rex Harrison, pictured left) who believes his wife (Linda Darnell, pictured right) is unfaithful plots revenge during a concert.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Preston Sturges's last film in Hollywood is a black comedy which received mixed reviews on release and was a commercial flop. However, Rex Harrison puts in a highly skilled comic performance as the anti-hero, whose character is based on Sir Thomas Beecham; and Sturges wittily sets his revenge fantasies to Rossini, Wagner and Tchaikowsky (there’s some excellent cutting of action to music).

One reason the film failed is probably that, of the conductor’s three fantasies about how to respond to his wife’s infidelity, by far the funniest is the first, murderous one; and the film ends in slapstick business which doesn’t show Harrison at his urbane best.

Another problem was the film was finished just at a moment when Harrison’s private life was under hostile scrutiny. Rex Harrison was married to Lily Palmer, but was widely blamed for having caused the suicide of his mistress, the popular actress Carole Landis (whom he had just abandoned) on July 6, 1948. The scandal did nothing to help the film. 20th Century Fox, believing the public would not accept a picture in which Harrison was seen plotting his wife's murder, delayed the release of the picture, but it didn’t help.

Now that such matters are largely forgotten, the film comes across as a unique, though not wholly successful, mixture of high art and low comedy. Whether it’s funny or not is a matter of taste. For me, it works as a satire on male self-pity and man’s infinite capacity for jealousy. The screenplay is highly literate, and delivered at quick-fire speed by Harrison (although the original first-choice for the role was James Mason, Harrison really inhabits the part, and you can also see why his nickname in the trade was “Sexy Rexy”).

Linda Darnell expertly plays her somewhat thankless character as a doting wife who realises that she has to act virtually as a surrogate mother to her husband. In the fantasy sequences, she also has to play her character as the guilty party, seen through the eyes of the anti-hero - ne mean achievement.

All the same, there is something missing - and that is audience involvement with the leading character. That is part of Sturges’s method - he wants us to feel at least semi-detached from the cvonductor’s behaviour, and laugh at his over-the-top reactions; but it does mean that remain at one remove from the comedy, and a lot of his behaviour struck me as not funny but sad. Howard Zieff directed an uninspired remake starring Dudley Moore in 1984.

"The Fox advertising department tried to sell it as some sort of murder mystery... Consequently, it never hit its mark. I suppose it was a flawed picture, but the ad campaign destroyed any chances it might have had."

(Barbara Lawrence, actress)

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