“Don’t you understand? You’re burying the wrong man!”
Desperately seeking to avoid media attention, a famous but reclusive painter named Priam Farll (Monty Woolley) assumes the identity of his deceased valet, Henry Leek (Eric Blore), and marries the woman (Gracie Fields) Leek had recently contacted via a matrimonial agency. His peaceful life of anonymity is soon disrupted, however, when an ambitious art dealer (Laird Cregar) begins to sell his latest paintings, and suspicions arise that “Priam Farll” isn’t really dead.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Laird Cregar Films
- Mistaken or Hidden Identities
- Monty Woolley Films
Monty Woolley is perhaps best known for his starring role in Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s acerbically madcap play The Man Who Came to Dinner (turned into a film in 1942) — yet his titular performance as the too-nasty-for-words theater critic Sheridan Whiteside doesn’t display him in anything close to his best light. I much prefer Woolley’s Oscar-nominated role in the wartime adventure drama The Pied Piper (1942), as well as his work in this gentle “comedy of errors”, about a world-class painter so desperate to be left alone that he willingly adopts another identity altogether. While Nunnally Johnson’s Oscar-nominated screenplay (based on a novel by Arnold Bennett) strains credibility time and again, it presents such an appealing scenario in the unlikely marriage between Woolley and Fields that one willingly suspends disbelief and criticism.
Comedienne and singer Gracie Fields was once one of England’s most popular performers, and her appeal is in full evidence here. From the moment she mistakes Woolley for his valet and rescues him from a trip to the jailhouse, we can’t help breathing a sigh of relief for the good fortune Woolley — who’s accustomed to having all his needs taken care of by someone else — has chanced upon. Their marriage-of-convenience is nothing short of charming, thanks in large part to Fields’ unceasing good grace and common sense, and Woolley’s clear appreciation of said characteristics. The complications that inevitably ensue — including the appearance of Blore’s estranged wife (Una O’Connor) and grown sons, and Fields’ sudden need to earn additional money for house payments — simply allow Fields to show us once and again why Woolley’s character is a damned lucky fellow. (And fortunately, he knows it!).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Gracie Fields as Alice
- Monty Woolley as Priam/Henry
Yes, for the lead performances.
- Noteworthy Performance(s)