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Monty Woolley plays Priam Farrell, a famous artist who is called back to England from his reclusive home in the South Seas to receive a knighthood from the King. On the journey home, Farrell's valet, Leek (Eric Blore) dies and Farrell assumes his identity.
Holy Matrimony (1943) had a cast made up of some of the greatest supporting actors in the Golden Age of Hollywood: Monty Woolley, Una O'Connor, Laird Cregar, Alan Mowbray, Melville Cooper, Franklin Pangborn, Eric Blore, and George Zucco. It also starred one of England's most beloved comediennes, Gracie Fields.
The film was based on Arnold Bennett's novel, Buried Alive, which he would later adapt for the stage as The Great Adventure (1911). Holy Matrimony was not the first filmed version of Bennett's work. It had been made as a silent film in England as The Great Adventure (1915) and a remake with the same title in 1921, starring Lionel Barrymore and his then wife, Doris Rankin. Paramount released their own version called His Double Life in 1933 with Roland Young and Lillian Gish.
Holy Matrimony, which had both Buried Alive and Indian Summer as working titles, was adapted for the screen by Nunnally Johnson, who received an Academy Award nomination. Johnson also served as both producer and, according to The Hollywood Reporter, substitute director (with Irving Pichel) when John Stahl fell ill during production.
Monty Woolley had just become a sensation in the film adaptation of his breakthrough Broadway role of The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) and had been signed to a long contract with Twentieth Century-Fox. Gracie Fields had left England for Hollywood in 1940 because her husband, Italian-born former silent movie comic Monty Banks, would have been interned in the UK for being an "enemy alien". Despite her enormous popularity in England, Fields never enjoyed film acting, considering it only a job that allowed her to have a beautiful home in Capri, Italy.
Released on August 23, 1943, Holy Matrimony was named one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review and received a warm reception by Bosley Crowther of the The New York Times, who wrote, "Mr. Johnson has made a charming picture which is full of sly humor. And John Stahl has directed it with understanding of its smooth wit and satire. They have manfully resisted the temptation to play it for loose-jointed farce and have kept the whole thing within the confines of literate comedy. [...] For much of the picture's velvet quality, they--and we--can thank Mr. Woolley and Miss Fields. Mr. Woolley gives a beautiful representation of a lion with a silver mane roaring at his vexing tormentors and purring in domestic serenity. And Miss Fields, in the gentlest, quietest manner, constructs completely a tender, hardheaded housewife. Laird Cregar is likewise excellent as a tyrannical art dealer, and Una O'Connor, Alan Mowbray and Franklin Pangborn are archly amusing in other roles."
Fields and Woolley proved such a popular team that they were matched again in Molly and Me (1945). The story was resurrected once more in 1954 as a Lux Radio Theater production starring Charles Laughton and Fay Bainter.
Producer: Nunnally Johnson
Director: John M. Stahl
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson (writer); Arnold Bennett (play)
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Art Direction: James Basevi, Russell Spencer
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge
Film Editing: James B. Clark
Cast: Monty Woolley (Priam Farrell), Gracie Fields (Alice Chalice), Laird Cregar (Clive Oxford), Una O'Connor (Sarah Leek), Alan Mowbray (Mr. Pennington), Melville Cooper (Dr. Caswell), Franklin Pangborn (Duncan Farll), Ethel Griffies (Lady Vale), Eric Blore (Henry Leek), George Zucco (Mr. Crepitude).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Crowther, Bosley "Holy Matrimony: Delightful Union of Monty Woolley and Gracie Fields in 'Holy Matrimony' at Roxy" The New York Times 16 Sep 43
The Internet Movie Database
MacNab, Geoffrey Searching for Stars: Stardom and Screen Acting in British Cinema