Unfaithfully Yours ★★★

Second viewing, opinion unfortunately unchanged. Preston Sturges' extremely dark comedy about a well-to-do musical conductor who discovers that his wife may be cheating and, during a concert, indulges in fantasies about humiliating and killing her is both out of character for him and surprisingly sadistic for a studio picture of its or any era; given Sturges' other work, it seems as though it's probably a case of actor mismatched to material. With a comedic actor like, for instance, Joel McCrea, the notion of a husband -- preferably not on such extremely scant evidence, after already declaring himself above such possessive nonsense -- cycling through various scenarios in response to infidelity could have some humane truth and probing, slightly acerbic humor about it. (The second dream, in which the preemptively jilted lover essentially promotes himself as some philosophical "bigger man," reminds me of my tendency to go over and "revise" conversations, specifically breakup conversations, after they happened to imagine how I might have come off better in them.) But with Rex Harrison, who seems to have little feel for comedy, lumbering through a tone-deaf performance as a complete asshole who doesn't seem like the type to find a nice person to marry in the first place, the primary effect of the violent scenarios he concocts -- ingeniously scored to classical music, implying that deep down Sturges really wanted to make a thriller and not a comedy -- is just shifty discomfort. (The film was also taken out of Sturges' hands at the eleventh hour and reedited by Darryl Zanuck, which likely didn't help.) In addition, as shown by the often lyrical dialogue in the first act, Sturges' strength was always verbal wit and his weakness was always slapstick, so it's hard to sit through the stilted, badly timed physical comedy that completely dominates the last thirty minutes, the only laughs coming from the complete absurdity of the situation whenever Darnell walks in. It's disappointing because the concept has a good bit of potential, but Sturges doesn't know how to make a black comic story like this work, and the problem in the end is characterization -- Charlie Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux and Dennis Price in Kind Hearts and Coronets, both released within a calendar year of this film in either direction, were muderous assholes but your heart could somehow go out to the former and you could just purely enjoy the unapologetic loathsomeness of the latter. But Sturges seems to expect us to find Sir Alfred's thinly disguised contempt -- as though he's jumping for the chance to find an excuse to hate the woman he married -- somehow relatable or redeemable or endearing, and because we never learn to like a single thing about him, and because the script relies on people finding a thousand excuses not to actually communicate, the whole thing feels strangely cheap right up to the abrupt finale. It might have worked as a short, and you have to give it some props for sheer audacity if nothing else, but we're a long way from the charm and beauty of Christmas in July here.