Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for April on TCM

The word "genius" is flung around a lot in the entertainment industry.  I use it most often when speaking of the people who make me laugh.  Surely there is no more apt description of writer/director Preston Sturges who had an unparalleled string of genuine comedy classics in the 1940s.

Who else, in the middle of wartime, could poke fun at motherhood, patriotism and heroism in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero and make us like it.  Sturges took on his own profession in Sullivan's Travels and no one felt the one-two punch because they were laughing so hard.  In The Palm Beach Story and, most especially, in The Lady Eve Preston Sturges took the romantic comedy, turned it inside out, stood it on its head and kicked it in the pants.  Genius.

Unfaithfully Yours is a Sturges film that I both adore and ignore.  Years go between viewings because I am afraid it won't be as funny as I recall.  However, each viewing proves my fears are groundless.  After all, we're dealing with a genius.

"A thousand poets dreamed a thousand years, then you were born, my love."

Sir Alfred De Carter (Rex Harrison) is a baronet, a wealthy and internationally famous symphony conductor who is devoted to his young and beautiful wife.  Lady Daphne De Carter is the American girl he swept off her feet.  She is devoted to her husband.  They are the picture of overindulgent romance.  Depending on your constitution, you will find their devotion either inspiring or revolting.

"Well, August, what happy updraft wafts you hither?"

Lady Daphne has a sister Barbara (Barbara Lawrence) who also married well, at least she married well-to-do.  Barbara's husband is the stuffy and unimaginative August Henshler (Rudy Vallee).  August is a practical and literal man.  When Sir Alfred travels he asks August to keep an eye on Daphne as in not letting her fret in his absence.  August takes this request to the level of placing a private eye on the case.

"You handle Handel like nobody handles Handel. And your Delius - delirious!"

Private eye Sweeney (Edgar Kennedy) is a great fan of Sir Alfred's.  He is also a man of a philosophical bent when it comes to beautiful young wives and handsome secretaries (Kurt Kreuger). Sir Alfred is not a man of such pragmatism.  Sir Alfred is a man of emotion.  To whatever height his devotion to Daphne reaches, it is to that height his jealousy rages at the suspicion aroused by the detective's report.

"I doubt that you played Russian Roulette all the time with your father!"

Visiting conductor Sir Alfred brings the orchestra to its zenith and the audience to its feet with his conducting of Rossini and Wagner and Tchaikovsky.  All the while he moves the audience to the depths of their soul, Sir Alfred is imagining the perfect murder plot.  With split-second timing and an ease of manner wondrous to behold he dispatches his disloyal wife and frames the duplicitous secretary.

Sir Alfred's vision of himself includes that of a generous and forgiving husband and of a despondent suicide.  Alas, real life even for a baronet and wealthy and internationally famous symphony conductor is rarely as uncomplicated as our imaginings.  Rex Harrison is not only hysterically funny with the glib lines offered Sir Alfred, he proves himself a master mime as well as he attempts to put his murderous plot into action.

Unfaithfully Yours was based on a story and film treatment that Preston Sturges wrote in 1933 entitled The Symphony Story.  A studio critique at that time was impressed with the originality of the story but felt it wasn't the sort of picture audiences would go for.  Lamentably, this proved to be the case in 1948 when this delightful bonbon of a movie flopped.  Sturges' streak had come to an end. 

TCM is screening Unfaithfully Yours on Saturday, April 13th at 10:15 pm as part of The Essentials:  Linda Darnell.


  1. I've always been a Sturges fan too - I have the Criterion DVDS of both SULLIVAN and EVE - but I don't think I've ever seen this one. If I'm home that night, I'll have to take a look at it.

  2. I love Sturges and every one of his films that I have seen. This is one of three that I have yet to watch but I did buy it last month. I was excited about it but after reading your always educational thoughts I am going to make it a priority. Harrison seems like a great match for a Sturges film with his quick wit. After seeing (and loving) "Blithe Spirit" I became convinced that I would like "Unfaithfully Yours" as well. Thanks again for a great post.

  3. Thanks a lot. Harrison will not disappoint.

  4. I love this movie, the last great Preston Sturges film. Thanks for spotlighting a very under-appreciated gem - and with such style! Kudos, CW.

  5. Can't believe I haven't seen this one! Thanks for giving us the heads up about it airing on April 13 - will have the DVR ready.

  6. The movie is actually airing at a pretty decent time, easier to remember than some. TCM loves us!

  7. I'm howling with laughter over the lines you inserted, CW. How have I never seen this movie??

    Will try and find it online somewhere. THANKS for the great post, I love early Rex Harrison.

  8. If just reading the lines could get to you, Yvette, you are going to have a ball once you get to see "Unfaithfully Yours".

  9. Lovely write-up of the movie. Sadly, part of the film's box-office failure was due to the suicide of Carole Landis, an actress with whom Rex Harrison had been having an affair. When Harrison refused to leave his wife for Landis, she killed herself. Needless to say, the news headlines that followed did not put audiences in the mood to see a black comedy about Rex Harrison fantasizing about killing his wife.

    1. I hadn't check this post in a while. And I hadn't checked the timing of the real life tragedy and its consequences on the film.



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