Monday, April 15, 2013

Unfaithfully Yours

Unfaithfully Yours
seen on TV @ TCM

Like most kids of my generation, I was first exposed to classical music through - what else? - cartoons. Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Tom & Jerry, and other television staples from childhood had episodes that used classical music in the score as well as a plot point - from Bugs impersonating a conductor to rid himself of an annoying opera singer, to Jerry disrupting Tom's piano concerto, not to mention all those Peanuts specials where Schroeder played his Beethoven. You've probably seen them too; they played often enough. As a kid, I was vaguely aware that the songs in these episodes were really old, but I never gave them much more thought than that.

When I started taking lessons on the Hammond organ my mother got for my sister and me, classical music became a bigger part of my life. I wasn't required to know who wrote what, but I had to learn how to play more than a few of those songs - or at least the most basic versions. I never came close to the level of skill of a Mozart or a Beethoven - or even Billy Joel - but I learned enough to eventually try my hand at songwriting in high school... but that's another story.

It's pretty amazing that classical music has survived for so long, and the creators - Bach, Wagner, Verdi, Handl, Brahms, etc. - remain familiar even to people (like me) unfamiliar with most of their music. This is especially true given how much world music has evolved. I have nothing against it, that's for sure. I remember attending one or two recitals put on by the music department of my high school, though if I did, it was probably because I had friends performing more than anything else.

In fact, I took a music class myself back in junior high. They gave me a clarinet and expected me to play it. I made sounds come out of it, though I'm not entirely sure if you could reasonably call it music. Maybe the wooden reed was never inside the top part correctly, or something. Needless to say, I never picked up the clarinet again after fifth grade. All the musical talent in the family went to my sister, and I'm proud to say that she utilizes it much better than I ever could!

But like I say, for me, cartoons and classical music go together, and there must be something about that combination, because Preston Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours plays a lot like a cartoon. It's about an orchestra conductor who's convinced that his wife is cheating on him, and he imagines different scenarios to deal with the situation. 

Sturges has to be one of the most underrated directors of all time. Film critics love to toss around the word "auteur" when talking about guys like Welles, Ford, Wilder and Hawks, but what about Sturges? The man wrote and produced his films as well as directed them, in a time when big-boss studio producers held the power, and his films practically define the term "screwball comedy." But nobody ever calls him an auteur. Or do they?

This is one of the few Sturges films I had never seen before, and after seeing Caftan Woman rave about it, I knew I had to make time for it. There are genuine laughs, to be sure. Sturges' gift for gab is very much on display here; in fact, Rex Harrison spits some mighty verbose and ornate dialogue, and at a frighteningly rapid clip (I found it a little tough to follow at first). Once I caught up, though, I found it funny in places, especially in the daydream sequences where he imagines how to deal with wife Linda Darnell. Plus, there were a couple of moments that were genuinely surprising in their audacity.

That said, though, the entire premise struck me as paper-thin and stretched out beyond its limits. A wordless slapstick scene with Hamilton late in the picture lost my interest after awhile (though, truth be told, this was partly because it was sometime around 11:30 PM and I was dozing off. Didn't I swear off watching movies after 10 PM?), and the silly sound effects didn't help. I kept imagining someone like, say, Cary Grant pulling this scene off instead of Harrison, whom I didn't buy doing pratfalls. I liked him better when he was setting things on fire and kicking wastebaskets around. Unfaithfully Yours has its moments, but it's far from Sturges' best.


  1. The teenaged Caftan Woman used to borrow classical albums from the local library. Once, listening to the overture from "Carmen", my younger by 16 years sister gasped in astonishment: "Don't tell me that's Carmen. That's Tom and Jerry!" Cartoons and classical music - like ham on rye.

  2. How dare they try and sneak culture into our mindless entertainment!


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