Unfaithfully Yours Reviews
Knowing where the film ends up on a 2nd viewing, this one may allow me to see more humor or enjoy the imagined asides, but for now my initial impression was very middle for the road for this classic.
Give it a peep, make your own call.
During the first half I was wondering why this is so highly regarded as a classic comedy. There are hardly any jokes, some lame slapstick, and Rex Harrison plays an insulting boor of a conductor. What gives?? Aha, it takes that long to get to the good stuff as Harrison, while conducting 3 pieces of music, mentally plots 3 methods of revenge against his wife whom he suspects had an affair with his assistant. The way these are presented is ingenious: every detail of every plan in his mind goes perfectly, but when he tries to replicate them in real life everything goes completely haywire in a gaspingly hilarious manner. So in truth there are about 20 minutes of actual comedy in this film, but they are some of the best 20 minutes of laughs you could hope for.
perhaps the most frustrating thing about this project is that the original edit seems lost forever, due to overzealous studio interference meted out by fox executive darryl zanuck. zanuck dug at sturges with an unceasing barrage of critical memos throughout production, going so far as to make the final cut himself. big studio execs have never really learned to keep their hands off their artists - except, perhaps, during the 1970s - but the correspondence preserved on criterion's dvd release really points up how bad it was 60 years ago. it's a shame - neither sturges nor zanuck got their desired outcome. zanuck's edit did poor business at the box office, and while the film we are left with wants for little, we'll never be able to evaluate the material that sturges wanted left intact, and zanuck insisted on cutting.
It's an insightful psychological film about male insecurity, jealousy, and hubris that is all sparked by an accident and ends without anyone but the protagonist being aware of the night's drama. It is also a film about the artist's passion and how his art influences his life, and his life his art. All the while it defies studio film expectations and subtly critiques and satires the predictability of standard cinema fare. And as it is written by Preston Sturges, it is also of course full of inimitable wit.
I believe this film was not successful upon its release because it asks more of its audience than most American films of the time. We are expected to keep track of multiple tiers of reality, one film-actual and the other according to the flights of the protagonist's fancy, in which his strength and abilities are both far greater than in actuality and the behavior of his wife and secretary are both fundamentally different. (Indeed, Linda Darnell plays roughly four different characters in this film, all exceedingly well.) Furthermore, this is a potentially rather disturbing film, black-as-pitch and perhaps touching on some taboos and uncomfortable impulses that people didn't want to be confronted with.
People tend to point out the lengthy slapstick sequence as a fault, but I think it works brilliantly. Rex Harrison is not built for this kind of thing, and that's the whole point: the dichotomy between what his character thinks he's capable of and the utter inanity of his attempts to actually carry out his plans is the lynchpin of the film. Because he is a "great man," a conductor, he thinks he can do anything, but in reality in any other area of life he is a child, who needs his wife dearly. She is the strong, committed, and understanding one, which makes her sympathetic as the unfortunate victim of her husband's impressionability, insecurity, and hostility.
Really fascinating and entertaining film, I keep hoping more people see it and feel the same.