December 6, 2005
Unfaithfully Yours (1948) is based on a short story called “Symphony Story” that writer/producer/director Preston Sturges wrote in 1933. At the time, he hoped it would be his directorial debut but the studios turned him down. In 1948, after many box office hits, he finally got the chance to make it.
Sir Alfred De Carter (Harrison) is a world famous symphony conductor deeply in love with his wife, Daphne (Darnell). He’s prone to theatrics that take on the form of exaggerated gestures. For example, he explodes in rage when his brother-in-law, August (Vallee), tells him that he had his wife followed. Alfred vehemently denies the notion that his wife is unfaithful but it plants a seed of doubt in his self-important mind. He then sees his wife having dinner with his assistant (Kreuger). It all seems innocent enough but only serves to plant additional doubt in his mind. So, he visits the detective who followed his wife around when he was away and becomes convinced that she has been cheating on him.
One of the distinguishing traits of this movie is its rapid-fire delivery of smart dialogue reminiscent of the screwball comedy genre. For example, one (of the many) memorable exchange of dialogue occurs between Alfred and August:
Alfred: She’s related to me also, in some way. August: So faintly it’s hardly worth mentioning. Alfred: Good.
There is so much dialogue that you have to pay close attention to funny, throwaway dialogue like the aforementioned exchange. In addition to all of this verbal comedy there is also a good amount of broad slapstick. There is an impressive sequence where Alfred lights a document on fire and discards it in a wastepaper basket. The ensuing flame ignites nearby curtains as the scene continues. Chaos breaks out as everyone rushes to put out the now raging fire that is consuming the room. By the scene’s end, Alfred and his buddies are spraying each other with water hoses about as much as the fire itself.
Alfred is prone to pontificating pompously. He loves the sound of his own voice and is the epitome of self-importance. His jealousy drives a wedge between him and his wife because he refuses to confront her and find out if his suspicions are true. Instead, he acts out, confusing and upsetting her as she doesn’t understand why he is acting so peculiar.
The centerpiece of the movie is when Alfred’s jealousy threatens to consume him while he conducts a concert. He imagines three different scenarios of how to deal with his wife. He first imagines an elaborate plot to kill his wife and then blame it on his assistant. Alfred then imagines paying off his wife and blaming himself for the dissolution of their marriage. Finally, he imagines confronting his wife and his assistant and forcing them to play a deadly game of Russian Roulette.
In actuality, he is rather inept at plotting and executing a murder. He races home and ends up tripping over and breaking furniture, constantly unhooking the phone, even breaking his glasses and generally making a mess of things—hardly the ideal he imagines: cool, confident and in control.
Unfaithfully Yours is a classic black comedy about how married couples don’t communicate properly with each other and how jealousy can consume someone, driving them to pathological behaviour. Even though it didn’t do well at the box office when it first came out, Sturges film is now regarded as one of his best movies and it is great to see it get the Criterion treatment.
There is an audio commentary by Sturges scholars James Harvey, Brian Henderson and Diane Jacobs. The opening orchestral music references Dante’s Inferno, specifically the second level which involves infidelity, one of the themes of the movie. The participants provide background to Sturges career and life, pointing out, for example, that before Unfaithfully Yours he made a film for Howard Hughes that failed commercially so a lot was riding on this one to do well. They provide plenty of biographical information on Sturges and in-depth analysis on the film itself.
Filmmaker and Monty Python member Terry Jones introduces the movie and talks about how he discovered Sturges’ films. He admires the speed of the dialogue and the energy of the performances. Jones also loves how the film defies your expectations and is a satire of the way men think about themselves.
Also included is an interview with Sturges widow, Sandy. She gives her impressions of the man and explains that the enduring legacy of his movies is a result of his skill as a storyteller. She talks briefly about his creative process and how, originally, he wanted James Mason for the role of Arthur but the actor wasn’t available. Harrison got the role even though, initially, he wasn’t interested until he read Sturges’ script.
There is a stills gallery of letters Sturges wrote to the studio pitching his short story to be made into a movie. Also included are copies of memos that Zanuck sent to Sturges during production that provide a fascinating snapshot of the development process on a studio motion picture.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.
Rating: 93 93%