Watching movies at Memorial Library: ‘Unfaithfully Yours’

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Having rented Claude Chabrol’s L’Enfer (1994) just the day before, I decided to fix myself an infidelity cinesandwich on Sunday afternoon, so I headed to the Memorial Library Media Center to check out Preston Sturges’s terrifically black comedy, Unfaithfully Yours (1948). While I haven’t yet seen all of Sturges’s oeuvre, I’d be surprised if Unfaithfully Yours doesn’t rank amongst his best.

Unfaithfully Yours has a surprisingly perverse, almost surrealist sense of humor, which manifests itself both in the film’s many allusions (to Wagner, to Tchaikovsky, to Henri Rousseau) and in the film’s narrative structure (especially during the stretches of what we in the business call “restricted subjective narration”; these sequences are anything but “funny”, at least in the conventional sense of the word). One can’t help but be impressed by the lengths to which Sturges and co. were willing to go in order to produce a legitimately transgressive comedy: Unfaithfully Yours features a brutal murder, an accidental suicide, even a scene featuring marital payola.

The camera snakes its way through the hallways of the apartment building where Sir Alfred de Carter (Rex Harrison) neurotically tangles himself into paranoid knots over the affair that his wife (Linda Darnell) may or may not be having with his assistant (Kurt Kreuger). Long takes stretch two-shots to the point of organic uneasiness. The pratfalls feel essential rather than superfluous. This is all to say: Unfaithfully Yours is a tightly assembled film, a unified whole whose constituent parts are rich and remarkable in and of themselves. Sturges was an artist whose grasp of the medium was impeccable: his work seems to argue that cinema isn’t just about making pretty pictures, adorning them with evocative music, and calling the resulting heap of aesthetic data a film; Sturges’s style of composition more closely resembles the orchestration of a train wreck than it does the painting of a picture or the writing of a novel.

Wow, was this a hyperbolic post or what? To see why you can’t fault me for writing this way, head to the Memorial Library Media Center and check out Unfaithfully Yours. You shan’t regret it.

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