Unfaithfully Yours Summary and Review

Unfaithfully YoursI’ve been a fan of Preston Sturges for at least a couple of decades. But that is based on his first eight films. I haven’t seen anything after Hail the Conquering Hero. At least in the old days, it was hard to find the later films because they weren’t successes. So I didn’t go out of my way to find them, even though I owned all of first eight films. But recently in a comment exchange with James, he recommended that I watch Sturges’s 1948 film Unfaithfully Yours.

Thankfully, The Criterion Collection released Unfaithfully Yours on DVD in 2005. And as usual, they did a great job. It includes an introduction with Terry Jones; a group commentary with scholars (always the best for this kind of stuff) James Harvey, Diane Jacobs, and Brian Henderson; an interview with Preston Sturges’ last (fourth) wife; and some other miscellaneous stuff. I haven’t had a chance to check it out in detail.

Plot Summary

The film stars Rex Harrison (looking rather like Preston Stuges himself) and Linda Darnell as his wife. And it is about jealousy. Really: almost nothing actually happens in the film. It is mostly just Harrison getting more and more freaked out by his imagination. He starts as a man totally in love and trusting of his wife. But a seed is accidentally planted and it works on him as well as Iago did on Othello. But things turn out better for Harrison and Darnell.

I can see why Unfaithfully Yours didn’t play at the time. It has an unusual structure. The first half hour is spent with Harrison avoiding looking at the incriminating evidence against his wife that has been created. The next 45 minutes are spent at a concert where Harrison is conducting. Over the course of three numbers, he imagines confronting his wife and her suspected lover. In the first, he murders her and frames the lover. In the second, he’s very understanding — sending her away with a large check. And in the third, he plays Russian roulette with the lover.

The rest of the film shows him trying to realize each of his fantasies. This go hilariously wrong. That’s especially true of his perfect murder plot, which is 15 minutes of slapstick zaniness. Everything works out, of course. Harrison and Darnell end the film just as in love as they started. And hopefully, Harrison is a better man for it. But you have to wonder, given that he is a Preston Sturges character.

Why Unfaithfully Yours Is Better Today

Another reason people probably didn’t like it at the time is that the tone of Unfaithfully Yours is inconsistent. It’s funny throughout. But the fantasy scenes are funny in a different, darker, way. And I suspect that this left a lot of people cold. It also didn’t set them up for the final act that is a comedic tour de force.

But it is exactly the unusual structure and tonal shifts that make the film work so well for a modern viewer — especially one who is familiar with Sturges’ other work. It’s probably good to think about modern superhero films. They are all the same and they all do well at the theaters. If someone created a superhero film that broke with convention, it probably wouldn’t do well. But it would be one of the few films anyone could stomach in 70 years.

I highly recommend the film if you are the kind of person who isn’t wedded to the new releases. Now I think I’ll go watch it again.

14 thoughts on “Unfaithfully Yours Summary and Review

  1. I’ve seen an early ’80s remake of this that stars Dudley Moore. Ages ago on HBO. I remember thinking it was funny. The denouement relies heavily on Dudley Moore’s drunk impression. But amusing, apart from that.

    • The librarian who checked it out to me told me I must watch the remake, so I probably will get it.

  2. I’m always happy to read a film review; and even happier if the movie is on Netflix. This one isn’t. Yet. Not sure I haven’t seen this–Sturges was a master of The Human Comedy.

    • I’ve noticed that Netflix isn’t great about older films, unless they happen to be in the public domain. It’s shocking that Sturges was a huge name at the time, but hardly anyone knows him today. Netflix doesn’t appear to have any of his films on IW right now.

      • I had an odd experience watching an old film on Netflix IW this year. It’s my dad’s favorite movie, “Patton.” George C. Scott won an Oscar for the role and rejected accepting it. Francis Coppola co-wrote the script. It’s clearly about an American dictator. Scott and Coppola give the character nuance; he’s a tyrant with an odd soul. Of course my dad loved the tyrant, hated the soul. My favorite bit rewatching it was Patton’s fascination with past lives. It elevates him from garden-variety tyrant to classic American kook. My Dad hated that part. The direction is quite bland. The script is sporadically brilliant. Scott’s amazing, and his opening monologue is worth watching by itself. It’s sustained madness. But, this was the guy who gave us a batshit general in “Strangelove” and “YOU OWE ME MONEY!” in “The Hustler.” He played maniacs well.

        It was odd rewatching that movie. Not least because Netflix fucks up the aspect ratio. They show it in fullscreen on your HDTV. This is wrong. The movie’s widescreen, it deserves to be shown letterbox with the intended aspect ratio. I’ve noticed that with other Netflix presentations of widescreen 1970s movies, like “The Parallax View.” It offends the piss outta me. It’s like pan-and-scan all over again. Why, Netflix, why?

        • I wrote an article, Netflix Is Just Not That Into Movies. They get whatever prints they can. In that case, I was talking about a print that had been edited for television. They’re horrible. But it’s not surprising: Netflix cares about what every corporation cares about: money.

          I believe Patton was that odd a character. His belief in reincarnation makes his notions of bravery and honor palatable. It’s almost impossible to see the film without thinking of The Grand Illusion. But it never fully embraces the tragic nature of the character. The opening is hilarious, “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country…” Most people, of course, don’t see the humor. When Trump talks about Patton, this is what he’s thinking of. The film was made during the worse period of the Vietnam War when most Americans were coming to terms with the fact that, despite what Patton was saying on the screen, we would lose a war.

          • I believe that monologue was Coppola’s. I think I performed it in the fourth grade talent show to impress Dad. I certainly got into trouble at school for the cussing.

            It would be neat to have something like a Criterion streaming service with decent presentations. Maybe eventually. It’s ridiculous this stuff isn’t in the public domain. Many old films are because whoever owned the rights just let them expire, which is nice.

            • Interestingly, if the print didn’t have a copyright notice on it, it would be in the public domain. It’s during that odd period. But I quite agree with you. The film is over 45 years old. What we’ve seen is that as life has gotten faster, copyright has gotten slower. It’s outrageous that Star Wars isn’t in the public domain. Because if you think about the public domain in a philosophical sense, both these films are. Oh, now I’m just getting angry.

              I thought Coppola wrote the script alone based on Bradley’s memoir. But I guess you are right.

              It’s also interesting that Patton himself did not have that gruff voice. He had rather a high pitched voice. (Was he compensating?!) But you know: print the myth!

  3. > If someone created a superhero film that broke with convention…

    Defendor, Super, All Superheroes Must Die, Unbreakable, Chronicle…

    • I thought about expanding on that. You might be right. I’ve only seen Unbreakable. Maybe people will appreciate that more in a few decades. Although it struck me as a whole lot of plot just to set up the “Surprise!” ending. What I was thinking about was more like The Toxic Avenger — but as a big studio film. But even that isn’t quite it, because I’m not talking about creating quirky characters but doing something actually different in a film — I can’t say what.

  4. Glad you enjoyed it. I need to introduce the SO to Sturges. It’s always been something of a private, nerdy kind of love for me.

    Reading the Sturges Wiki page, he had quite the life. His mom was sort of a Zelda whirlwind type; for awhile she was having an affair with Alastair Crowley!

    The superhero genre-satires Dave L. mentions are all entertaining. My personal favorite got worse reviews than any of them.

    It’s Green Hornet, directed by Michel Gondry. The Green Hornet is a spoiled, bored playboy who starts playing at being Batman. He’s a ridiculous oaf at it, as anyone would be. His chauffeur, Kato, does all the real crimestopping. Eventually the Green Hornet starts to believe his own press, and this pisses Kato off to no end. The two fall out, and only become friends again once the Hornet realizes what a condescending ass (and racist ass to boot) he’s been.

    It’s a sly satire of white America’s tendency towards cultural appropriation, and it made audiences uncomfortable. As was, no doubt, the intention. Kato’s frustration is quite understandable, and the Hornet’s ego is painful to watch. Happily, there’s a Bad Guy who’s an even bigger jerk than the Hornet. It’s Christoph Waltz, doing his patented Arrogant Lunatic bit. Seriously, Waltz should sue Trump for intellectual property theft!

    • I read a Sturges biography and his autobiography. He did live an interesting life. Fascinating guy. I recommend the autobiography.

      I saw Green Hornet. I don’t recall much of it. But as I responded to Dave, that wasn’t really what I was talking about. Sturges isn’t satirizing a genre. He’s messing with expectations. Or it could just be that he was a point in his career where he just wanted to please himself. But the film is highly experimental for its time.

      • I may have overvalued “Hornet.” The script’s kinda a mess. When the Hornet and Kato sing along to “Gangster’s Paradise,” though, that’s gold. That’s better than anything in any Marvel movie, ever.

        • The fact that I don’t remember a superhero film is something of a compliment. Usually, I remember them very well because I was so outraged at them.

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