Cast & Crew
World-renowned conductor Sir Alfred de Carter returns to New York from a visit to his native England and is greeted at the airport by his beautiful, much-younger wife Daphne, with whom he is deeply in love. Upon returning to his luxurious hotel, Alfred is confronted by his boring, wealthy brother-in-law, August Henschler, who misunderstood Alfred's casual request that he watch over Daphne during his absence. Mortified to learn that August hired a private detective named Sweeney to trail Daphne, Alfred tears up Sweeney's report, throws it out into the hallway and ejects August from his study. After rehearsing the orchestra for an upcoming performance, Alfred is accosted by the hotel's house detective, who returns the torn-up report. In his attempt to burn the document, which he still has not read, Alfred sets his dressing room on fire, and the subsequent fracas makes him late for lunch with Daphne. At the restaurant, Alfred runs into August and his wife, Daphne's sister Barbara, and is disturbed by their assertion that Daphne and Anthony Windborn, Alfred's secretary, looked "too cute" sitting together to be disturbed. Alfred joins the innocent couple, but, now wondering if Sweeney has a duplicate of his report, leaves for the detective's office. Alfred is embarrassed that Sweeney, who is a music fan, recognizes him, but is truly upset upon finally reading the report and learning that, late one night, while wearing a negligee, Daphne went to another room in the hotel and stayed there for thirty-eight minutes. Thunderstruck, Alfred returns to the hotel and discovers that the hotel room listed in the report is occupied by Tony. Daphne is bewildered and hurt by Alfred's sudden coldness and sarcasm, and storms off to the concert hall after they quarrel. During the performance, Alfred's mind wanders, and he vividly imagines slashing Daphne to death with a straight razor, then framing Tony for the crime. Alfred laughs madly as his fantasy ends and he finishes conducting the number. When the orchestra begins another song, Alfred's imagination begins working again, and he envisions himself nobly telling Daphne that she belongs with Tony, who is closer to her own age, and giving her a substantial check with which to begin a new life. Alfred's tears as he ends his reverie are attributed by the audience to his powerful, sympathetic conducting. When the third song begins, Alfred imagines daring Tony to participate in a game of Russian roulette, while an anxious Daphne looks on. Tony cannot pull the trigger, however, and Alfred is shot as he demonstrates how to play the game with courage. Alfred almost collapses from his excessive emotions as he finishes conducting, and the audience shows its appreciation with a standing ovation. Rushing home, Alfred attempts to stage the murder that he had imagined during the first number, but his bumbling attempts make a mess of the apartment. Daphne then returns home and questions her husband about his outburst of temperament, but devotedly bandages his thumb when he cuts it while testing the sharpness of his straight razor. Finally realizing that Daphne does indeed love him, Alfred asks her why she went to Tony's room, and she reluctantly reveals her fear that Barbara was having an affair with Tony. Daphne had gone to Tony's room to see if he and Barbara were there, but they were not. When Daphne saw that she had been followed, she hid in the empty room. Alfred realizes that Sweeney was the mysterious man following Daphne, and that the situation was entirely innocent. Alfred then begs Daphne to forgive him for his irrational behavior, and she readily accepts his temperment as the excusable sufferings of a great man who has many responsibilities. Tenderly taking Daphne into his arms, Alfred tells her, "a thousand poets dreamed for a thousand years, then you were born, my love."
J. Farrell Macdonald
Major Sam Harris
Paul S. Fox
Arthur L. Kirbach
R. A. Klune
Cyril J. Mockridge
Maurice De Packh
J. S. Pierpont
Robin Sanders Clark
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Joseph C. Wright
Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
Rex Harrison, as Sir Alfred De Carter, in Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
Rex Harrison had one of his most pleasant filmmaking experiences in Hollywood and turned in one of his finest comic performances when he teamed with madcap auteur Preston Sturges for this dark slapstick comedy. His starring role as a pathologically jealous symphony conductor gave him a chance to demonstrate the suavity he had developed as one of the stage's best light comedians, while Sturges's intricate comic dialogue took full advantage of his classical stage training. And the sequences in which he envisions avenging his wife's imagined infidelity to the music of Rossini, Wagner and Tchaikovsky -- all pieces he is conducting at the time -- are a marvel of filmmaking, capped off with the slapstick that follows when he attempts to follow through on his plans.
Sturges had written the original story in 1932 when he realized how much music playing on the radio was influencing his work on another screenplay. With its darkly comic tale of murder and adultery, he couldn't find a studio to produce it until he signed a two-picture deal with 20th Century-Fox in the late 1940s. Even then, it was a hasty substitute for the project he had originally signed for, a Betty Grable musical eventually titled The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949). When he couldn't have the Grable script ready in time, he switched to his earlier script and, after rejecting titles like Unfinished Symphony and The Symphony Story, borrowed the title from an unpublished play written at about the same time he'd started working on the script that would become Unfaithfully Yours.
The film has all the Sturges trademarks -- intricate dialogue that demands scrupulous care from the actors (it could take 20 takes just for some actors to get the lines right) and careful listening from the audience, interspersed with moments of slapstick designed to infantilize even his most sophisticated characters. But it also has a darker side, with Harrison's character driven to contemplate murder and even suicide. Some biographers have suggested the script's more cynical tone derived from Sturges's fiery affair with actress Frances Ramsden, who had played a small role in his previous film, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947) and was briefly considered for the role of the wife in this picture. Sturges would later admit that Ramsden drove him mad with her mercurial moods. When he went to visit her he didn't know whether to expect a kiss or a blow from a frying pan. Another sign of the film's reflection of the director's own problems with women is the line Harrison delivers when making love to his wife, "A thousand poets dreamed a thousand years, then you were born, my love." Sturges would tell friends that was a line he used with several of the women in his life.
Sturges had originally envisioned Ronald Colman in the leading role. By the time he made the picture, however, James Mason and Gene Tierney were his first choices for the leads. Harrison had just returned from England, where he had shot Escape (1948), and studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was eager to get him into another American made film before Harrison took off for Broadway to star opposite wife Lilli Palmer in Maxwell Anderson's Anne of the Thousand Days. He also relished the prospect of re-teaming Harrison and Tierney after the success of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
When Tierney read the script, however, she begged him to assign another actress, arguing that the wife's role was distinctly secondary and couldn't be expanded without hurting the film. The studio briefly considered Carole Landis for the female lead, but her personal problems, mainly caused by her affair with Harrison, made that a bad idea, and Linda Darnell was cast instead. Landis would commit suicide at age 29, just before the film's scheduled premiere. The studio held back the film's release to avoid the bad publicity surrounding her death, particularly since Harrison starred in the film as a man who dreams of murdering his wife.
Unfaithfully Yours features several members of the unofficial "Preston Sturges Stock Company," supporting actors who had appeared in numerous films for him. These included Rudy Vallee, Edgar Kennedy, Al Bridge, Georgia Caine, Robert Greig, J. Farrell MacDonald, Frank Moran and Max Wagner. In addition, Lionel Stander had worked with Sturges on The Sin of Harold Diddlebock. Another Sturges regular, Jimmy Conlin, filmed scenes as Darnell's father but they were cut before release.
As with most of Sturges's films, the set was like a circus. Sturges always wore a red fez while directing, claiming that would make it easier for people to find him. Between shots he raced from one part of the soundstage to another, alternately coaching actors on their readings of his meticulously crafted lines, banging out jazz tunes on a nearby piano or joining cast members in impromptu barbershop quartets. Before shooting a scene he would run out to the lot and invite passersby to see it. Then he would sit stuffing a handkerchief into his mouth to keep his laughter at his own jokes from ruining the shot. Harrison and Darnell thrived in that atmosphere, with Darnell crowing that she had finally found a real director with whom to work.
Sturges did some of his most cinematic work on the film. The panning shot into Harrison's eyeball at the start of each fantasy sequence anticipates a similar shot in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). And for the fantasy scenes, he used distorted camera angles and stylized acting, requiring everyone but Harrison to play the scenes in a stiff, artificial manner. Harrison, a match for the director's perfectionism, pushed himself as well. He studied conducting so strenuously that the studio musicians, who appeared on screen for the rehearsal and concert sequences, told him later they were able to perform by following his baton. And he threw himself into the slapstick routines for some moments of frenzied inspiration. Meanwhile, Zanuck fretted that costs were rising. Even though Sturges brought the film in on time, the $2 million budget required by his working methods made it vital the film become a box office smash.
Unfortunately, it didn't. Although Unfaithfully Yours previewed well, on its initial release only the big-city critics liked it. Historians have attributed the picture's box-office failure to its black comedy, which was years ahead of its time, and the feeling that none of the characters were sympathetic. Sturges never really recovered from the film's poor box-office showing. Although he made two more films, a lot of the joy had gone out of his filmmaking. With repeated showings on television and in revivals, however, Unfaithfully Yours eventually found its audience and is today considered one of Sturges's and Harrison's best. A remake was planned as a vehicle for Peter Sellers, but when he died it was reshaped to star Dudley Moore and released, to little success, in 1984. A few years later, Harrison's use of an edited reel-to-reel tape as part of his murder scheme inspired a similar and more successful use of the device in Woody Allen's Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993).
By Frank Miller
Producer: Preston Sturges
Director: Preston Surges
Cinematography: Victor Milner
Score: Alfred Newman
Cast: Rex Harrison (Sir Alfred De Carter), Linda Darnell (Daphne De Carter), Rudy Vallee (August Henshler), Barbara Lawrence (Barbara Henshler), Kurt Kreuger (Tony Windborn), Lionel Stander (Hugo Standoff), Edgar Kennedy (Detective Sweeney), Al Bridge (House Detective), Georgia Caine (Dowager), Robert Greig (Jules - the Valet), Isabel Jewell (First Telephone Operator), J. Farrell MacDonald (Stage Doorman), Frank Moran (Fire Chief), Max Wagner (Stage Manager)
Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
Unfaithfully Yours (1948) - Unfaithfully Yours on DVD
Synopsis: Sir Alfred De Carter (Rex Harrison) is a high-strung concert conductor, an international celebrity at the height of his powers. Among his retinue is an idiotic millionaire brother-in-law named August Henshler (Rudy Vallee, of course) who misinterpreted one of Alfred's remarks and hired a detective (Edgar Kennedy) to investigate Alfred's devoted and loving wife Daphne (Linda Darnell). Sir Alfred drowns Daphne with attention and luxuries but the detective's report inflames his jealous imagination. He imagines various scenarios of murder and romantic revenge while conducting several classic pieces on-stage. Not only does this reverse therapy inspire him to risk a real murder plot, his volatile emotions improve his conducting as well!
It's more than slightly exasperating when the public rejects a great movie; it is hard to imagine any audience not being captivated by Unfaithfully Yours. The fault was bad promotion and marketing by the studio. According to Sturges' widow Sandy Nagel Sturges (interviewed on this disc), just before the film was scheduled to open starlet Carole Landis died of a drug overdose and was linked to Rex Harrison in the scandal sheets. Fox panicked and promoted the movie as a murder mystery.
It's also quite possible that the public of 1948 didn't respond well to Unfaithfully Yours' idea of comedy, which is essentially black comedy. Laughing like a maniac, Sir Alfred slashes Daphne with his razor, a shocking (off screen) moment that many might think in terrible taste. The only comparison can be found in art films unseen by the regular public. Luis Buñuel's 1955 The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz has a vaguely similar theme.
But unpredictability is all the fun of Unfaithfully Yours, which allows a pompous master of the arts to be a madman at heart while his inspirational music lifts the spirits of those around him. Sturges reserves a lot of screen time and considerable affection to show a gravel-voiced detective (Edgar Kennedy) and a doddering tailor (Julius Tannen) appreciating Sir Alfred's musical gifts. Kennedy gets the best lines in the picture: "You handle Handel like nobody handles Handel. And your Delius - delirious!"
The great Sir Alfred has an Achilles heel, a limitless jealousy over his beautiful wife Daphne. One suspicious observation from the detective and Alfred is imagining that every adoring glance and loving word from Daphne disguise her sordid affair with his young and handsome personal secretary, Anthony (Kurt Kreuger). Inspired by his own concerts, Alfred imagines taking a bloody revenge on them both. He casts himself as the sardonic hero of elaborate murder scenarios, exposing Daphne's treachery and torturing both her and her lover (imagined as a sniveling coward, of course).
It's the old story of distrust between the sexes with romance as a game of deception, in this case, self-deception. Alfred loves Daphne but is incapable of really knowing her except as an extension of his own romantic ideals. Unfaithfully Yours is the story of a warped mind in a comedy arena - as a horror film it might turn out to be something like Riccardo Freda's The Horrible Dr. Hichcock.
Amateur inventor Preston Sturges concocts some supremely witty visual devices. He lets us know that the conductor's murders are only daydreams by literally trucking into Rex Harrison's head. An ambitious crane move travels from a long shot of a crowded concert hall right up into the blackness of Sir Alfred's left pupil. It's a visual trick we associate with later, more self-conscious gimmicks in movies like Nicholas Roeg's Performance. Each classical performance serves as the background score for a particular imagined fantasy, sort of a Fantasia of murder, or murder-suicide, depending on Sir Alfred's mood. As in a music video, the dream scenarios conform to the contours of pieces by Rossini, Tchaikowsky and Wagner.
The only hint of excess in the movie is the clash between intellectual wit and outright slapstick. The story's conflict takes place almost entirely within Sir Alfred's subconscious, where his murderous daydreams share space with his amorous quote about Daphne being created by a thousand poets dreaming for a thousand years. The film's devotion to the ecstasy of love is an ideal Daphne or any other mortal female would find tough to live up to.
That high-toned content plays out in Sturges' familiar universe of pushy associates and annoying relatives, all dishing out overlapping fast-talk laden with double-entendre zingers and silly puns. The soundtrack reaches for additional laughs by overdoing comical sound effects. Using loud audio effects when the tightwad Rudy Vallee character opens and closes his wallet is amusing, but Sturges assigns exaggerated noises to everything Sir Alfred comes in contact with. The gag belongs in the universe of The Three Stooges.
The best set piece is an inspired comic scene patterned after the work of Sturges' hero Harold Lloyd. We've already seen Sir Alfred rig a diabolically clever murder trap in one of his fantasies. When he tries to put it into action the movie becomes a comic discourse on the way elaborate plans go awry in real life. Sir Alfred is defeated by chairs, telephones, and razors. He imagines himself a criminal mastermind but can't even tell his hi-tech home acetate recorder from a box of party games. He's dismantled by his own ego and we get to enjoy the wreckage. Sturges knows exactly how to milk the comedy - we anticipate each step in Alfred's humiliation. Sturges cuts back to the hieroglyphic-like printed instructions for the recording device four or five times, and gets a bigger laugh with each repetition.
Rex Harrison is perfect as the insanely jealous husband and Linda Darnell appropriately dreamy as the object of his affections. Standouts in the cast are Lionel Stander as Sir Alfred's crusty Russian manager and Barbara Lawrence as Daphne's cynical sister. They all do well with some of the most complicated comedy lines ever heard.
Criterion's DVD of Unfaithfully Yours looks great. The B&W cinematography is as sharp as a tack and the sound recording manages to grab both the impossibly fast dialogue and the nuances of the concert scenes.
DVD producer Johanna Schiller conducts an impressive array of extras. Three Sturges scholars gang up on the commentary, providing multiple points of view on the film and its place in the hyphenate's career. Ex-Python Terry Jones offers a spoiler-laden 'video introduction' that should be avoided until one has seen the movie, which prompts Savant to ask why it can't be listed as an appreciation instead. Preston Sturges' widow Sandy also appears in a new video interview. She's a delightful lady who gets to the core of his personality and his clash with Darryl F. Zanuck, and offers convincing reasons why Unfaithfully Yours was not a big hit. Every audience I've ever seen the film with has gone into hysterics.
The original trailer is a dismal item that makes the film look like an unfocused hodge-podge ("It's five movies in one!"). There's also a gallery of stills and fascinating production correspondence documenting Darryl Zanuck's interference, which reportedly intimidated Sturges to no end. Jonathan Lethem's liner essay is a concise and thoughtful overview of this hugely enjoyable film.
For more information about Unfaithfully Yours, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Unfaithfully Yours, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Unfaithfully Yours (1948) - Unfaithfully Yours on DVD
A thousand poets dreamed a thousand years, then you were born, my love.- Alfred
The working titles of this film were Unfinished Symphony and The Symphony Story. Preston Sturges' onscreen credit reads "An Original Screen Play Written, Directed and Produced by Preston Sturges." According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Sturges wrote his original screen story in 1932. Throughout the 1930s, Sturges submitted the story to Fox Film Corp., Universal and Paramount, all of which rejected it. Studio memos indicate that in 1938, Sturges wanted Ronald Colman to star in the story. A March 1948 Los Angeles Times article reported that the story idea occured to Sturges when he noticed how a melancholy song on the radio subconsciously influenced him while he was trying to write a comic scene.
Modern sources state that Sturges originally wanted Frances Ramsden to play "Daphne," and James Mason to be cast as "Sir Alfred de Carter." According to a February 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item, Gene Tierney was originally set to play "Daphne." Studio records note that Jimmy Conlin was scheduled to play Daphne's father, but the role was cut before the film's release. The records also reveal that studio attorneys were worried about potential comparisons between "Sir Alfred de Carter" and famed English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. Although they advised Sturges to tone down any similarities, the Film Daily review pointed out that Rex Harrison played "a British symphony orchestra conductor whose real life counterpart will not be hard to guess."
In a June 28, 1948 memo, reprinted in a modern source, studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck wrote to Charles Skouras, the studio's president, that the film had already had a sneak preview in Riverside, CA, and that the running time was approximately 127 minutes. According to modern sources, the release of Unfaithfully Yours was delayed because studio officials feared a backlash from the negative publicity surrounding the July 1948 suicide of Carole Landis, who was rumored to be having an affair with Rex Harrison, and whose body was found by Harrison at her home. Although the film, which was the first of two produced by Sturges for the studio, received mostly positive reviews, it did not do well financially. In February 1949, independent producer William D. Shapiro filed a lawsuit against the studio and Sturges, claiming that Sturges had plagiarized a screen story written by Arthur Hoerl, which Shapiro had intended to produce. Shapiro asserted that after he hired Werner Heymann as the musical director on his intended project, Heymman discussed the idea with Sturges, who plagiarized it for Unfaithfully Yours. The disposition of the case has not been determined. In 1984, Twentieth Century-Fox released a remake of the film, also entitled Unfaithfully Yours, which was directed by Howard Zieff and starred Dudley Moore and Nastassja Kinski.
Released in United States 1974
Released in United States June 1990
Released in United States November 1971
Released in United States Winter December 1948
Shown at Sidney Film Festival June 8-22, 1990.
Released in United States 1974 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Preston Sturges Movie Marathon) March 28 - April 9, 1974)
Released in United States June 1990 (Shown at Sidney Film Festival June 8-22, 1990.)
Released in United States Winter December 1948
Released in United States November 1971 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (A Tribute to the American Cinema) November 4-14, 1971.)