“Oh Alfred, what is the matter? You’re acting like a crocodile with a toothache.”
When a renowned conductor (Rex Harrison) is led to believe that his beautiful young wife (Linda Darnell) is cheating on him with his secretary (Kurt Kreuger), he concocts several elaborate scenarios for revenge.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that this “Preston Sturges comedy about the fury beneath the serene facade of supposedly happy, trusting marriages” is “uncharacteristically cynical”, pointing out that it “lost money and got mixed reviews when it came out”, but that “many modern critics regard it as a masterpiece”; however, he concedes that “while there are some sparkling moments … it’s the worst of Sturges’ forties comedies”. He argues that “the subject itself [is] distasteful”, and that “the throat-slashing of Darnell in the first fantasy is too gruesome for a comedy” — indeed, “it’s impossible to forgive Harrison after he conceives such an act”. He also points out that “except for Harrison’s difficulties with a recording machine” (an extended sequence which comprises “the most chaotic slapstick routine in any Sturges film”), the slapstick is “annoying” rather than funny. Finally, he argues that “Darnell’s character is [not only] given little humorous to say” but is “miscast anyway”, and he laments that “the supporting parts aren’t worthy of the fine actors who play them”.
I’m almost entirely in agreement with Peary’s review of this pitch-black comedy, which I recall finding off-puttingly distasteful as a teenage ff (and which still doesn’t sit quite right with me today). While I’m much better able at this point to appreciate Sturges’ darkly cynical sense of humor (I now find his clever screenplay creatively conceived, at the very least), I’m frustrated by my inability to relate to the central protagonist. Sure, we’ve probably all imagined some form of unpleasant revenge during our darkest moments of fury — but Harrison’s reactions are simply over-the-top, given that he never actually confirms Darnell’s betrayal. Indeed, while I disagree with Peary that Darnell is miscast (I think she does a fine job in a tricky role), we can’t help wondering why she’s so willing to forgive him time and again for his atrocious (real-life) treatment of her. Ultimately, this is a film most ffs will be curious to check out — given that all of Sturges’ films possess moments of brilliance — but not one I’d consider must-see viewing.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Linda Darnell as Daphne
- Edgar Kennedy as Detective Sweeney
- An often-clever (if simultaneously off-putting) screenplay by Sturges
No, though Sturges fans will clearly want to check it out, and it’s worth a one-time look.