Preston Sturges had an amazing run as a film director in the 1940s, delivering a series of sardonic comic masterpieces with speed, consistency, and a sharp point of view. Any director would be lucky to sign their name to one film as good as either Sullivan's Travels or The Lady Eve. Sturges saw both of them released to theaters within a single calendar year. The creative prosperity didn't extend much past the decade, though, and the 1948 comedy Unfaithfully Yours is, by any reasonable assessment, his last film of note. Following a disastrous professional dalliance with Howard Hughes—whose promises of artistic freedom were quickly betrayed in favor of trademark micromanagement—Sturges tried to establish a new home at 20th Century Fox.
The first film under that banner, Unfaithfully Yours follows a world-renowned orchestra conductor (Rex Harrison) as he dreams up increasingly elaborate scenarios for murdering his young wife (Linda Darnell) as revenge for a suspected extramarital affair. The plotting is clockwork perfect, and Sturges was practically unrivaled in crafting pungent comedic dialogue, which is gets an extra snap here from Harrison's imperious diction. In the happy recycling factory of Hollywood, Sturges has seen surprisingly few of his works scavenged for updates, but Unfaithfully Yours received that very treatment for a 1984 Dudley Moore vehicle that has been largely—and justly—forgotten. Clearly, there was no improving on the original. It's presented here in 35mm as part of UW-Cinematheque's "Reinventing Hollywood" series. —Daniel Seeger