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Review - Unfaithfully Yours (Criterion) (DVD-2005)
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Unfaithfully Yours (Criterion) (DVD-2005)

Criterion Collection

Reviewed by Daniel Severin

 

Preston Sturges is an amazing motion picture director. As a screenwriter at Paramount in the 1930s, he helped create the screwball comedy genre. In 1940 he became the first person in Hollywood to write and direct his own scripts, before Orson Welles or Billy Wilder. Sturges made eight classic films between 1940 and 1944, including The Great McGinty and Sullivan’s Travels, before his popularity waned. Criterion has just released a DVD of one of Sturges’s later films, Unfaithfully Yours. The story of a symphony conductor who fantasizes about killing his wife while conducting a concert, it is a masterpiece of dark humor and cinematic subtlety.

 

Rex Harrison stars as troubled conductor Sir Alfred, who thinks his wife Daphne, played by Linda Darnell, is having an affair with his assistant. Though it’s as funny as The Awful Truth and Bringing Up Baby, Unfaithfully Yours was a box office bomb when it came out. Audiences were uncertain of how to react to the film’s mix of noir, screwball comedy, and silent cinema. The Criterion transfer is immaculate, which adds to the experience of watching this obscure gem.

 

Few have seen Unfaithfully Yours. Everyone who talks about it on the DVD has a different reason for why the picture flopped. In a fascinating interview, Sandy Sturges, the director’s widow, says 20th Century Fox squashed the film’s publicity after a scandal in Rex Harrison’s personal life. The three Sturges scholars on the fascinating audio commentary paint a different scenario, one of changing public tastes and a complex film that the trailer called “six films in one.” Unfaithfully Yours was promoted not as a comedy, but rather as a murder mystery, and the commentary explores Sturges’s fusion of the two genres.

 

No matter why it flopped, in 2005 Unfaithfully Yours is a true masterpiece. It is full of slapstick, drama, suspense, and farce. The Sturges canon must be reassessed now that Unfaithfully Yours is on DVD from Criterion. It’s as good as The Lady Eve and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and even more complex than either. Unfaithfully Yours is one of the funniest, most innovative films ever made.

 

 

2005 Daniel Severin/Celluloid Dreams

 

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