by Allan Fish
(USA 1948 105m) DVD1/2
Be vulgar, by all means
p/d/w Preston Sturges ph Victor Milner ed Robert Frich md Alfred Newman m Giaocchino Rossini, Richard Wagner, P.I.Tchaikovsky art Lyle Wheeler, Joseph C.Wright cos Bonnie Cashin
Rex Harrison (Sir Alfred de Carter), Linda Darnell (Daphne de Carter), Rudy Vallee (August Henshier), Barbara Lawrence (Barbara Henshier), Lionel Stander (Hugo Standoff), Kurt Kreuger (Anthony), Edgar Kennedy (Det.Sweeney), Al Bridge (house detective), Julius Tannen (tailor), Torben Meyer (Dr Schultz), Robert Greig, Isabel Jewell,
Of all his comic masterpieces, none has been so worthy of rediscovery as this black romantic comedy. Sturges’ last major film was also his most highbrow, a film that, though enjoyable for all, contained subtleties surrounding the choice of music that only connoisseurs could appreciate. It’s like a box of After Eight mints, dark on the outside, velvety smooth on the inside and leaving you craving for more. Just a pity that Sturges wasn’t allowed to ever give us seconds.
Sir Alfred de Carter is a famous British composer (modelled on Thomas Beecham, Carter’s liver pills being the name for Beecham’s pills in the US) who has married a young American, Daphne, whose younger sister is wife to a rich but dull financier. When de Carter asks his brother in law to keep an eye on his wife while he’s away, he doesn’t realise how seriously he would undertake the task and is told that he believes Daphne is having an affair. One night, while conducting a concert, he imagines three different ways of dealing with the situation; murder, surrender and Russian roulette.
There are many things that mark out Yours as a work of genius – the casting, the use of the library music, the script undertones – but the greatest for me is that it accurately separates reality from fantasy. In his daydreams at the concert everything goes to plan, not a thing goes wrong and the timing is perfection. In reality, when he comes home, he’s inept, a bungler, a total incompetent. His wife and his assistant return to find the room in the sort of mess normally associated with a visit from Laurel and Hardy. Much of the credit must go to the star because it is undoubtedly Rex Harrison’s finest hour. Forget My Fair Lady (which was just a capturing on film of a greater stage performance) and even Blithe Spirit, he shows a gift for not just witty repartee and suave manners but for physical pratfall farce. The sequence where he attempts to get the recording machine to work so he can murder his wife is a chaotic ballet of disaster worthy of W.C.Fields at his peak. All this is not to say that Harrison doesn’t have great lines, he does, but one expects that of both he and Sturges. Kudos also to the rest of the cast (the always wooden Darnell aside), with Lawrence on the nose as the wisecracking sister in law and Vallee as her “square from Delaware” husband (“give me the simple viewpoint” states Vallee, “you’ve got it, boy. You don’t have to yearn for it…” retorts Lawrence). But it’s the cameos that yield the most pleasure, with delicious turns from Sturges’ favourite Al Bridge and, in one of his last roles, Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers’ old sparring partner Edgar Kennedy as the private detective with a passion for classical music (“nobody handles Handel like you handle Handel” he tells Harrison).
As one would expect from Sturges there are many truly great sequences, with particularly fond recollections of the rehearsal of the orgasmic Semiramide overture which represents the film’s darker heartbeat (harpist polishing her nails, Harrison smoking a fag, and the call to the cymbal crasher taken as the tagline). Not to mention his chastising his wife for saying she played Russian roulette as a girl with her father, “that was Russian bank. Russian roulette is a rather different amusement which I could only wish your father had played continuously before he had you.” And if a love of Rossini to match my own is a plus, it’s by no means a prerequisite. As Harrison says “there’s nothing serious about music. It should be enjoyed with a sandwich in one hand and a bucket of beer in the other and as many pretty girls around as possible.” Who can say no to that?
How Unfaithfully Yours made the Top 100:
Allan Fish No. 17
Roderick Heath No. 19
Bill Riley No. 26
Bobby Jopson No. 30
Peter M. No. 46
Dennis Polifroni No. 52