Fox // 1948 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 3rd, 2013
Will somebody "get her" tonight?
When it comes to screwball comedy, there's nobody who can top Preston Sturges. To be sure, other directors offered truly classic entries into the genre: Howard Hawks (Bringing Up Baby), Frank Capra (Arsenic and Old Lace), Gregory La Cava (Our Man Godfrey) -- and more recently, The Coen Brothers seem happy to enthusiastically revive the genre every few years or so. However, nobody working in the genre was as consistent or as consistently inventive as Sturges. In many of his films, the primary flaw is that terrific lines and great sight gags are flying so fast that you simply don't have time to laugh at all of them.
That's certainly the case in Unfaithfully Yours, one of his screwiest screwball comedies. The film stars Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady) as famed classical conductor Sir Alfred de Carter, who is very happily married to a young woman named Daphne (Linda Darnell, A Letter to Three Wives). Alas, after Alfred hears a rumor that Daphne has been cheating on him, he grows mad with jealousy. One night, as he conducts a concert, he envisions a number of different ways to handle his wife's infidelity (all of them dramatic, most of them violent). Alas, when he eventually makes an attempt to put these schemes into practice, things don't exactly go as planned.
The film is best-known for its sequences of fantasy revenge set to the strains of familiar classical music, but Unfaithfully Yours is on fire far long before Harrison begins to concoct a variety of elaborate schemes. Sturges employs mile-a-minute dialogue throughout the first act, throwing out colorful insults and witticisms in remarkably entertaining fashion. It's such a joy to listen to his characters talk; they employ a measure of well-timed creativity which rarely sounds realistic but which is an immense pleasure, regardless. A couple of quick samples:
Detective Sweeney: "The way you handle Handel, Sir Alfred -- for me, nobody handles Handel like you handle Handel. There's you up here -- then there's nobody! No second, no third...maybe way down here, Arturo, a poor fourth. And your Delius -- delirious!"
Alfred: "Have you ever heard of Russian Roulette?"
Daphne: "Why, certainly. I used to play it all the time with my father."
Alfred: "I doubt that you played Russian Roulette all the time with your father."
Daphne: "Oh, I most certainly did. You play it with two decks of cards, and..."
Alfred: "That's Russian Bank. Russian Roulette's a very different amusement which I can only wish your father had played continuously before he had you!"
The fantasy sequences are built as much upon sight gags and physical comedy as verbal jabs, but Sturges is just as skillful with the former elements as with the latter. The film's final act -- a hilariously well-staged concert of clumsiness -- is a riot, given extra punch by contrasting Alfred's ineptitude with the elegance he so quickly granted himself in his fantasies. Harrison makes an ideal protagonist, bringing the same sort of arrogant charm and sliminess he offered just a few years earlier in Blithe Spirit. The childish rage is his performance is a consistent source of entertainment. Of the supporting players, I particularly enjoyed Barbara Lawrence (Oklahoma!) as Daphne's bemused sister and Edgar Kennedy (Duck Soup) as an enthusiastic detective ("I saw your first concert -- your de-butt!").
This DVD release (from Fox's manufactured-on-demand "Cinema Archive" line) is quite problematic, unfortunately. The transfer starts out well enough, but gets noticeably worse as the film proceeds. There are moments in the final act when things become flat-out ugly, as detail fades and the image takes on the quality of a cheap video. There are also quite a few scratches and flecks present. The Dolby 1.0 Mono track is also problematic, featuring lots of hiss and even some moments where the audio drops out or is completely garbled. The strange thing is that Criterion released the film on DVD just a few years ago, and it looks and sounds vastly superior to this release. In addition, the Criterion release came with lots of bonus features, while this disc offers absolutely no supplements. Okay, but at least this version is cheaper, right? Um...afraid not. So why would anyone buy this version?
Unfaithfully Yours remains a terrific comedy, but this poorly-produced DVD is impossible to recommend. Stick with the Criterion release.
The film is free to go, but the disc is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1948
MPAA Rating: Not Rated