Wednesday, August 30, 2006
If I said a film's funniest line was "I hate dry, white bread", you would probably question my sense of humor and my taste in films. But that is the funniest thing I've heard recently (not counting that news item about a woman who was arrested for teaching her dog to drive a car. What if she had succeeded? It could have destroyed the market for designated drivers.)
"Unfaithfully Yours" is the film that's said to have ended the great Sturges' career. The film, a fearless black comedy, does not play like the typical screwball fare. Unlike most "comedy of remarriage" films, its plotline is uncomplicated: a music conductor, played with great aplomb by Rex Harrison, suspects his wife of cheating on him. And for about 80 minutes, he plots revenge. En route to the climax, he burns down a dressing room, trashes a hotel room (so clumsily that I kept hoping someone would send Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as the emergency crew) and of course, expresses his strong distaste for dry, white bread. There is something very Wodehousian about all this and that is part of the fun.
The film's structure, however, is very unusual. Sturges uses three classical music pieces as both the background as well as a narrative device. At one point, it almost felt like it was a program film set against a great score and not the other way around. Imagine a modern mainstream comedy touting itself as "Rib-tickling comedy set to a Tchaikovsky score!"
While the laughs were aplenty in this film, Sturges himself felt "the audiences laughed from the beginning to the end of the picture. And they went home with nothing. Because nothing had happened." (Courtesy: notcoming.com's review.)
But who wants anything to happen. As long as Sturges' rat-a-tat dialogue delivery and the biting humor are there, I am happy. "Unfaithfully Yours" may not be "The Lady Eve", but it has plenty of all that makes a Sturges film.
Jonathan Lethem has a terrific essay on the film at Criterion's website. (Did you notice - Criterion has "Jimi Plays Monterey" in their collection now. All bow to the Gods at Criterion.)