Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
starring Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell
supporting cast: Rudy Vallee, Barbara Lawrence, and Lionel Stander
Have you ever had a single performance color every other movie an actor makes? Welcome to my experience with Rex Harrison. Every movie he made is colored for me by Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady. For some people this might not be such a bad thing, but for me . . . well, I don't like Henry Higgins all that much so I struggle with liking Rex Harrison by default.
HOWEVER, that said, it's almost impossible to dislike a Preston Sturges film since the man was brilliant and Unfaithfully Yours didn't make it into the Criterion Collection without a good reason. Black comedies have their place and this is one of the best, easily ranked up there with Arsenic and Old Lace and The Ladykillers.
Welcome to the story of a man who learns the hard way that lack of sleep and self-imposed starvation result in PARANOIA. Get your 8 hours and eat a healthy diet of calories and you'll likely NOT jump to the same wacky conclusions as our hero, Sir Alfred de Carter (Rex Harrison).
Alfred and his youthful bride Daphne (Linda Darnell) are absolutely drippy with romantic affection for one another. It's almost sickening. But all that changes when Alfred returns from a trip to find that his brother-in-law August Henshler (Rudy Vallee) has had a private detective follow Daphne, completely misconstruing Alfred's request for August to keep an eye on her while he was gone. Being the temperamental artist that he is (he's a maestro for an orchestra), Alfred throws August out on his rear, but the seeds have been planted. It takes only a little sprinkling of water here and there for him to think that Daphne and his young, handsome secretary Anthony Windborn (Kurt Kreuger) are having a riotous love affair. After all, Anthony is much nearer to Daphne's own age than Alfred.
Short on sleep and those calories we talked about, during one of his concerts, his mind wanders down the rabbit hole, imagining all sorts of crazy scenarios that include an elaborate scheme involving a voice recorder and a scene like something out of a slasher flick sans blood, then a scene where he's all forgiving and writes her a check and gives her permission to leave him, and finally a scene where he challenges Anthony to a game of Russian roulette . . . and loses.
Of course, those scenarios are all merely figments of his imagination. Real life is much more fun with its insanity and quirks as he makes foolish attempts at all three before finally realizing his wife is INNOCENT of all wrongdoing and he's been an idiot. Happy ending!
And the only reason why I'm telling everyone a few details about what happens is so you'll actually watch it. Here's where Unfaithfully Yours differs from other black comedies. Nobody actually dies, unlike Arsenic and Old Lace and The Ladykillers. So it's a much more lighthearted experience despite its blackness. Sadly, that very blackness kept this film from being a rousing success upon its debut, but critical response was favorable. I guess it was just slightly too dark for 1940s audiences, a would-be murderer as the main character and all. Never mind that he's a goof and a bungler.
Kudos, once again, to Preston Sturges, this time for the deliciously witty dialogue that is so redolent throughout the film. That man knew how to write dialogue. I drool with envy. And here's where I must also congratulate Rex Harrison. Now that I've seen Unfaithfully Yours at least twice, I can honestly praise him and freely admit that I don't believe anyone else could have played the role with quite so much sarcastic humor and wit. Possibly the only other fit might have been Laurence Olivier, but I believe Olivier was doing Hamlet in 1948 so he was just a tad busy.
As for Linda Darnell, she's such a lovely woman, and while I do feel she overdid it a little bit with her "I'm insanely in love with my husband" routine, she matched Rex Harrison beautifully. Although I do wish she'd pouted less while whispering sweet nothings in his ear. Reminded me far too much of Marilyn Monroe's propensity to do that pooch thing with her lips, which I never found attractive. It was fun watching her play opposite Rex Harrison in his imaginary scenes, and her character in real life is genuinely in love with her husband and has never, would never, cheat on him, so that made her instantly likeable.
Welcome Rudy Vallee and Barbara Lawrence, both stars in their own right. It's always fun when Rudy Vallee pops up in film. I know him mostly as a singer and as a poor, hapless guest star on I Love Lucy. Poor, poor man. And here he gets his jacket torn practically to ribbons by Rex Harrison. Gotta love it! Barbara Lawrence plays Rudy's unhappily married wife, and no wonder since they are so very poorly matched. But I know I've seen her in other films and she always spices things up a bit.
Particularly Funny Bits
"Well, August, what happy updraft wafts you hither?" - Alfred
"I give you my solemn word, August: if I don't regain control of myself in a few minutes, concert or no concert, I'll take this candelabrum and beat that walnut you use for a head into a nutburger, I believe they're called!"- Alfred
"People said "What do you wanna hear that Limey for? What does he know about music? It takes an Eye-talian, a Russian or a Dutchman to bring it out good," but something inside of me said "Give the Limey a chance!" And I did! And am I glad I did!" - Detective Sweeney
"There's nothing wrong with me that a couple of magnums of Champagne won't cure!" - Alfred