Monday, January 11, 2010

Underrated Movie #10: Unfaithfully Yours


Title: Unfaithfully Yours
Year: 1948
Director: Preston Sturges
Writer: Preston Sturges
Stars: Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady), Linda Darnell (A Letter to Three Wives), Rudy Vallee (The Palm Beach Story)

The Story: An imperious conductor tries to ignore rumors of his wife’s infidelity, but then, while conducting a concert, he imagines three scenarios in which he gets his revenge. After he emerges from his reverie, however, his fantasies are rudely punctured.

How it Came to be Underrated: During Sturges’s career, all of his movies were underrated. Only years later, with the rise of home video, did his reputation finally catch up to (and perhaps even surpass) the other breakthrough writer-directors of the ‘40s, John Huston and Billy Wilder. Now his early movies are justly praised (though they could hardly be overpraised), but viewers quickly realized that Sturges later career was largely disappointing, and those films are still little-seen. For the most part, that’s for the best, but there are a few exceptions and this is the best of them. This late masterpiece is a diamond in the rough.

Why It’s Great:

  1. I mentioned before how much I loved Mark Harris’s book “Pictures at a Revolution”, a behind-the-scenes portrait of the best picture nominees of 1967. As the peevish star of Dr. Dolittle, Rex Harrison becomes the villain of that book, condemned as a boorish cad who had outlived his prime and overstayed his welcome in Hollywood. The portrait is so deliciously wicked that I never wanted to like Harrison again. But I had forgotten how much I love his performance here, where he gives the most egoless portrait of egomania I’ve ever seen. No one can summon up a state of high dudgeon like Harrison can, and yet, the more pompous the character becomes, the more abjectly pitiful Harrison makes him. It almost makes me forgive all the horrible things Harris said about him.
  2. Sturges's gift for zippy dialogue is undiminished: "I seriously doubt that you played Russian Roulette ‘all the time’ with your father!"
  3. Even couched in a fantasy sequence, the eventual explosion of violence is truly shocking. This movie tips over the simmering cauldron of panic roiling away inside the light screwball comedies that launched Sturges’s writing career. In that way, it’s like two other movies from the same period, Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux and Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, but the misanthropy of those films seemed a little curdled, as if the directors had held onto it a bit too long, or felt it a bit too deeply. Chaplin and Wilder made those movies to implicate their audience, but Sturges is only interested in implicating himself. He’s decided that he’s ready to admit a bit of truth: sometimes, the war of the sexes can take casualties, and madness isn’t always divine.
  4. When Harrison actually tries to enact his imaginary scenarios, he realizes that he has been the ultimate bad writer— he has forced the endings, refusing to allow his ‘straw man’ villains to surprise him. His fantasies fail when real life turns out to be more humiliating than his most morose self-deprecations, and yet somehow more empowering than his most grandiose heroic fantasies. The problem with imposing one’s vision on the world is that what one needs to hear often turns out to be more valuable than anything one has to say.

Underrated Compared To: Sturges’ best films. It deserves a place alongside them.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: That said, every man, woman and child should watch Sturges’s best, including (but not limited to) The Great McGinty, The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels (great last line!), and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.

How Available Is It?: It’s on dvd and available to Watch Instantly. Do not rent the 1984 remake starring Dudley Moore!

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: 10 Pleasant Minutes a Day!

4 comments:

Laura Lutz said...

Too late - I already saw the Dudley Moore version. NOT one of the most underrated movies - it deserves all our scorn.

I like this choice (which I haven't seen) because most people know Rex Harrison from My Fair Lady but aren't likely to know this. Well played!

Amy said...

http://sandowplus.co.uk/Competition/Jowett/MMM/mmm.htm

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Mike Sutton said...

While I fully agree that it's no match for the original, at least the remake features an on-form Albert Brooks who apparently ad-libbed most of his lines.