Thursday, June 16, 2011


Preston Sturges, 1948
Starring: Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Rudy Vallee, Barbara Lawrence, Kurt Krueger

Rex Harrison, how I love you, let me count the ways. Though he's wonderful in most things, Unfaithfully Yours is basically the Rex Harrison show and comes highly recommended for fans of the late, great actor, as well as for anyone who enjoys black comedies from the '40s and '50s.

Harrison plays Sir Alfred de Carter, a well-known English composer. He has recently married Daphne (the lovely Linda Darnell), a younger, beautiful American girl. Despite their social differences and age gap, they have a loving, romantic marriage. Sir Alfred, who has recently been away touring Europe, has an unfortunate meeting with his stuffy brother-in-law. When Sir Alfred casually asked him to look after his wife while he was away, his brother-in-law took this to heart quite literally and sent a private detective after her. In a rage, Sir Alfred scathingly admonishes his brother-in-law and tears up the report without reading it, though a seed of suspicion has been planted in his mind. Soon he accidentally comes across the real information. They live in a fancy hotel and his wife was in another man's room late at night, wearing lingerie. This man, as it turns out, is his private secretary, the young, handsome Anthony. Almost instantly, he is transformed from a loving husband into a jealous maniac.

During a sold out concert, while conducting pieces from Rossini, Wagner, and Tchaikovsky, Sir Alfred has a series of fantasies of how he will deal with the situation. First, he dreams up a diabolical plot where he murders Daphne and frames Anthony. Second, he imagines himself as sad, but forgiving. He writes Daphne a large check to support her and Anthony and willingly lets her go to the younger man. In the third fantasy, he forces Anthony to play Russian roulette, but takes his turn first, resulting in suicide. After the concert, the now frothing mad Sir Alfred flees home and begins to prepare for his wife's murder as he imagined it in the first scenario. Nothing goes as planned and Sir Alfred unintentionally destroys his apartment in a lengthy comedic scene. When his wife returns home will she be able to set things straight? Or will Sir Alfred succumb to his murderous rage?

Of course he won't. This is a black comedy, but it's still a comedy. And a damned enjoyable one. Though it is available streaming on Netflix right now, I'm reviewing the Criterion release, which is obviously the best available edition. It is the single disc, special edition version of Unfaithfully Yours, but is more reasonably priced than most Criterion releases. Granted, the extra features aren't really that special, other than the commentary by Sturges scholars -- but I'll take whatever Rex Harrison-Criterion combo I can get.

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