Rex “Henry Higgins” Harrison is a famed conductor. His brother-in-law (radio star and megaphone crooner Rudy Vallee, naive rich dude in The Palm Beach Story) hires a private detective to spy on Harrison’s wife (Linda Darnell, recently starred in My Darling Clementine), so Rex, against his own hatred of spying and his belief in trust, accidentally finds out that his wife may be cheating on him. While conducting that night’s three symphony movements, he has three fantasies in which he murders his wife (aided by a sound recorder gismo) and frames her illicit lover (Rex’s secretary) Tony, then he forgives her and writes her a giant check while making her feel small and unworthy, then he confronts the couple and kills himself in russian roulette. After the symphony Rex rushes home and bungles about in a painfully protracted slapstick sequence – he can’t make the recording gismo work, can’t find bullets for his gun, and spills ink all over his checkbook. Finally she casually explains away the circumstances that led detectives to suspect her of cheating, and we have our happy ending.
Recommended listening: Mad at a Girl by Robbie Fulks.
In the shot below, on right is secretary Kurt Kreuger (this must’ve been a relieving change of pace for him, after playing nazi flunkies all during the war), middle is brother-in-law Rudy Vallee, and left is Lionel Stander (Katy was appalled at his accent).
Caught some Sullivan’s Travels actors: valet Robert Grieg (here a butler, doing a different voice I think) and bus driver Frank Moran (here a fireman). There were more whom I didn’t recognize, but the standout scene was with a relative Sturges newcomer Edgar Kennedy (former Keystone Kop who starred in his own long-running shorts series) as the private detective who spied on the wife, confronted in his office by Rex. It’s one of my favorite scenes in any Sturges movie – beautifully written and acted, sharp dialogue becoming softer as the men bond over their love of music and hard truths they wish they hadn’t learned. William Demarest was around in ’48, acting in four films and voicing a cartoon character for Walter Lantz, so I don’t know why he couldn’t make it onto Sturges’s set.
Don’t think I ever realized that Sturges’s cinematographer is Victor Milner, who worked with Lubitsch in the 30’s and shot Trouble In Paradise. Both Paradise and this one have far more interesting camera work than your average comedy. This one is notable for the looooong zooms into Rex’s eye before each of the fantasy sequences.
Full of wordy dialogue like “August, what happy updraft wafts you hither?” and “You handle Handel like nobody handles Handel,” which enriches the movie to no end, but makes it wearying over its almost two hour runtime (and that’s after having a half hour cut by the producer).
Linda Darnell, unaware that Rex is behind her with a razor in his hand:
Nice DVD extras – Terry Jones says it’s a satire of the masculine self-image and Sandy Sturges tells of a romantic scandal involving a girl killing herself over Rex Harrison which made this movie impossible to promote. Commentary points out that this came out the year after Monsieur Verdoux, obviously similar in a few ways.
Meaning of Harrison’s line “my family’s product has kept England on time since Waterloo” is that the real conductor on whom the character was based inherited a family fortune from laxative pills.
This was a script from the early 30’s that Sturges considered as his directorial debut, but the studio didn’t want it at the time. It’s the subject of Sturges’s only remake to date, a flop 1984 version with Dudley Moore, Nastassja Kinski and Albert Brooks, scripted by the writers of And Justice For All.