director Preston Sturges
I’m still working my way through Preston Sturges, and thusly I am still working my way to reckoning my overall feelings about him. The first of his films I saw was the absolutely terrific Sullivan’s Travels (1941). The next of his films I saw was The Lady Eve (1941) which had some qualities, but I felt it flopped hard on Henry Fonda, who just didn’t feel right in the comic lead. More recently, I watched The Palm Beach Story (1942), which was a lot of fun and featured Joel McCrea who had also starred in Sullivan’s Travels.
Why say all this before saying a word about Unfaithfully Yours? I think because Unfaithfully Yours, while having a lot of interesting things in it, actually being really interesting and clever overall, falls flattest when asking star Rex Harrison to be particularly funny in a physical manner. It’s been several years since watching Fonda in The Lady Eve but that’s my key memory of the film is him just landing hard and flat. Maybe Sturges is best when he’s got the right actor in place. Maybe that’s not always Joel McCrea?
Unfaithfully Yours is a dark screwball comedy about a famous musical conductor (Harrison) who comes to suspect his wife Daphne (Linda Darnell) of cheating on him with his his valet (Kurt Kreuger). These suspicions are sprung upon him much against his personal belief but eventually take over his mind, which leads him into fantasies of murder and revenge, all set to musical numbers he is conducting at a live concert.
These three fantasies are the film’s most interesting conceit, each coming as the camera zooms into Harrison’s eye as the musical number he is conducting gets underway and then cuts to a scene supposedly post-concert. The first of these isn’t entirely clearly a fantasy until some ways in as the plot becomes arch and silly, following a convoluted set-up of recording himself with a acetate record machine and then slashing his wife and framing his valet. The murder itself is kind of shocking and brutal (even if happening out of frame) and this flavors the film with its darkness.
As each sequence starts anew, we come to recognize the fantasy as fantasy, but when the concert ends, Harrison hurries back to his apartment to attempt to live out each of the strange delusions, failing miserably with each and busting up the apartment as he struggles with technology in what could have been funny, but falls, as I’ve said, flat.
It’s weird because Harrison is good in other sequences and scenes, but I the big finale flops for me, lessening the film. Overall, it’s very interesting, even its dark tenor, which could be ripe for analysis could have worked.
Apparently this was late in Sturges’s career, having switched studios from Paramount to Twentieth Century Fox in a deal while not as disastrous as Buster Keaton’s move, was apparently a death knell for Sturges overall.
Like I said, I’m still trying to get my read on Sturges. More to come.