More people should know about Preston Sturges.
He’s the director of many wonderful comedies like Sullivan’s Travel’s, The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story, and his 1948 effort Unfaithfully Yours is no different. Starring Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Rudy Vallée and Barbara Lawrence, the movie tells the story of British conductor Alfred de Carter (played by Rex Harrison) and his wife Daphne (played by the gorgeous Linda Darnell.) The de Carter’s are your typical, upper middle class couple. He loves her unconditionally, and she loves the attention he gives her (in a good way.)
Here’s the twist, he wants nothing more than to kill her.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen. This fine, loving, caring husband wishes to kill his wife in the most gruesome way possible.
How did he reach this breaking point you may ask?
Well, his wife cheated.
Isn’t murder justifiable when your spouse cheats on you? Preston Sturges seems to think so, but, not exactly in the way that you think.
You see, instead making Unfaithfully Yours into a thriller/drama in the vain of Dial M for Murder, Sturges decides to take this material and make into a dark comedy.
It works perfectly, even though movie go-ers at the time didn’t think so (we’ll discuss this later.)
The film starts off with Mrs. de Carter waiting at an airport with a group of family members/ friends, eagerly anticipating the return of her husband from his native country of England. Alfred steps off the plane, sees his wife, rushes out as quickly as possible and immediately gives her one the biggest embraces I’ve seen on camera.
After that big hubbub at the airport, the group checks into a rather luxurious hotel a few miles away. While freshening up after his cross Atlantic trip from England, Alfred’s brother- in- law August Henschler (played by Rudy Vallée) admits that he misunderstood what he meant when Alfred told him to “watch his wife” while he was out of town.
August mistakenly hires a detective named “Sweeney” (played by Edgar Kennedy) that was tasked with following Mrs. de Carter for the duration of her husband’s trip to England. Henschler takes it one step further when he shows his brother-in-law Sweeny’s report about his wife.
Irate at him for doing such a thing, Alfred quickly tears up the report then storms out the door to start rehearsals for his orchestra.
Upon returning from rehearsal, he gets a visit from the hotel’s resident detective (apparently they have those) who gives him another copy of the ripped up report. Determined to get rid of it once and for all, Alfred pulls out a match, lights it on fire, and promptly throws it into the garbage can. This, consequently, ends up setting the drapes a blaze.
It is here where we get out first slapstick moment of the movie. Mr. de Carter sprints to the nearest fire hose and attempts to put out the fire to no success. A second fellow runs to another hose and tries to put it out, but, he just ends up spraying Mr. de Carter. The whole thing is a mess, it really is an absurd scene in the best way possible.
Alfred’s firefighting makes him late to his dinner with his wife.
At the restaurant, just before meeting up with his wife, Alfred runs into Daphne’s sister Barbara (played by Barbara Lawrence) and her husband August, who’s sitting a few feet away from his reserved table.
She makes an off the cuff remark about Daphne and his secretary Anthony Windborn (played by Kurt Kreuger) looking “too cute” sitting alone together at his table.
He brushes off her comment and joins the pair at the table. But, all the while he’s enjoying their company, he can’t help but think that his wife actually did step out on him. Wanting to quench this urge, he seeks out the detective agency that ‘stalked’ his wife. He finds the office and runs into the man who originally gave the report to his brother-in-law: Sweeney.
Sweeney wants to tell him the things that were on the report, but, he insinuates that the acts on it were too lewd. He explains that one night, Daphne was seen leaving another man’s room after about 38 minutes, only wearing negligee. At first, Alfred was terribly hurt. Then, an avalanche of rage washes over his face.
He bolts back to the hotel, where he discovers that the number of the room his wife walked out of was that of his secretary, Tony.
He catches up with his wife who’s getting ready to head out for her husband’s performance later that night. Alfred finds her in the middle of putting on her dress and proceeds to give her the cold shoulder.
Daphne, obviously upset about the way her husband is treating her, runs off in resentment to the concert hall.
Arriving at the hall about 30 minutes later, Alfred shows up and takes his conductor’s stand. During his performance, Alfred imagines three scenarios in which he can handle this situation.
The first is a rather gruesome scene. He imagines slashing his wife’s throat and somehow blaming it on her ‘lover’ Tony. The whole plan is rather complex and very precise, it truly is very impressive. The second scenario is him apologizing her and her lover, proclaiming that, “youth needs youth” while simultaneously writing a check out in Daphne’s name for $100,000. In the third and final scenario, Alfred challenges his wife and Tony to a game of wits by forcing them to participate in a game of Russian roulette.
After the third day dream ends, which happens to coincide with his last song, Alfred rushes out of the concert hall and takes a cab back to their apartment where he attempts to set up the scenario from his first day dream.
In classic Sturges style, everything fails hilariously.
Every detail Alfred planned beforehand in his head, doesn’t come to fruition.
He’s a bumbling fool and I’m dying of laughter.
He makes a mess of his apartment and realizes that he should quit while he’s ahead, when he cuts himself trying to make a straight blade razor a little bit sharper. His wife Daphne walks in and surveys the mess her husband has made. Insisting that he has a cold, she convinces Alfred to stop whatever he’s doing and get some rest.
Alfred discerns from his wife’s reaction that she truly does love him. He gives up on his giant temper tantrum and, finally, asks his wife why she was in Tony’s room. Daphne explains that she suspected Barbara of having an affair with Tony. So, she went to into his room to see if she was there – she was not.
So, there she is, in another man’s room in a negligee with a detective trailing her every move. She sees the private eye, and swiftly sneaks into an empty room. By the time she gets to this point in her story, Alfred starts to connect the dots: Sweeney was the man who was following her, and that the entire situation was just a big misunderstanding.
The movie ends with Alfred taking his wife in his arms, begging for forgiveness, and quoting a line from a poem that states, “a thousand poets dreamed for a thousand years, then you were born, my love.”
Many movie fans (including myself) may have enjoyed this movie, but at the time of its release, audience members unanimously rejected the film’s ‘dark’ tone. I could understand this sentiment. There are some fairly dark moments in the film, yes, but it is a dark comedy, and I don’t think many people understood that in 1948. I suppose that’s one of the many reasons it didn’t do too well at the box office.
As for my opinion, I believe it’s a fantastic movie.
The acting performances, the directing- all of it! Yes, the subject matter was a little heavy, but the way Preston Sturges directs, makes it little less, ‘shocking.’ Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell worked very well together and that contributed to how well acted this movie is. All in all, Unfaithfully Yours is the perfect movie for this blogathon. It’s funny, well scripted, and most importantly, fits the subject matter perfectly.
If would like to see the other entries in this blogathon, click: here