Directed by: Preston Sturges
Starring: Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Rudy Vallee, Lionel Stander, Barbara Lawrence, Edgar Kennedy
The meteoric career of filmmaker Preston Sturges that began in 1940 with The Great McGinty and sputtered and stalled due to his ill-advised partnership with Howard Hughes and Harold Lloyd on The Sin of Harold Diddlebock in 1946 flared back into complete brilliance one last time with Unfaithfully Yours in 1948. It was to be Sturges’ last great film. Its failure at the box office guaranteed that. It’s not hard to see why it failed in 1948. It was too sophisticated, for one thing. For another, its humor is often pitch black, and its happy ending only remains happy as long as you don’t question the look on Linda Darnell’s face after she assures Rex Harrison of her fidelity. But 1948 was a long time ago, and in the decades since the film has been rightly regarded as one of Sturges’ best works—and probably his most creatively daring one. The story involves a symphony conductor, Sir Alfred De Carter (Harrison), whose dirty-minded brother-in-law, August (Rudy Vallee playing a character deftly summed up by screen wife Barbara Lawrence with “Some men just naturally make you think of brut champagne, others make you think of prune juice—you have nothing to laugh about”), mistook Sir Alfred’s phrase “keep an eye on my wife” (Darnell) to have sinister import. As a result, he puts a private detective on her tail during Sir Alfred’s absence, resulting in a very suspicious-looking report.
Jealousy takes hold of Sir Alfred and he considers what he should do while conducting a concert. He contemplates murdering her and pinning the crime on her presumed lover (Kurt Kreuger) during Rossini, envisions a saccharine forgiveness scenario during Wagner, and imagines a flamboyant exit in a game of Russian roulette during a work by Tchaikovsky. The real problems arise when he tries to put any of these scenarios into action afterwards. Typically, Sturges blends the ultimate in sophisticated repartee and wordplay with broad slapstick (Rex Harrison battling wicker-bottomed chairs and the Simplex Home Recorder are not soon forgotten)—and the results are comic nirvana. But Sturges goes further in this film in the area of matching music and image than he’d ever done before—a preoccupation evidenced by his attention to background scores throughout this film—resulting in possibly his most cinematically creative work. It’s as close as you’re likely to get to a perfect movie.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Unfaithfully Yours at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)