Comedy Oddities: Unfaithfully Yours (1984)

unfaithfully yours 1984 indexI’ve seen the 1984 Dudley Moore version of Unfaithfully Yours probably more often than any other sane human being, and it would be an embarrassing amount of times given its quality in comparison to the original if it wasn’t for the reason that I grew up with a Dudley Moore obsessed Sister in a household with only one tv, and as the quite clearly crazy alternative would have been to go outside and play instead I watched it time and again.

Little did I know that she was introducing me to the cinema of Preston Sturges, who I would then go on to ignore for well over three decades before finally becoming obsessed with, yet while he does get a “Based on the screenplay by” credit the actual script is by Valerie Curtin, Barry Levinson and Robert Klane, though why three people were needed to change one of the best comedy scripts of all time is beyond me. A certain amount of modernising takes place I suppose, but none of it actually improves the original bar the occasional one liner from Albert Brooks’ neurotic New Yorker Norman.

The set up is partially the same as the original as due to a misunderstanding while away on tour a composer and conductor has a private eye keeping a watch on his much younger wife, and though initially appalled that this has occurred he gives in and reads the file, which suggests his wife has cheated on him. While conducting an orchestra Claude Eastman (Dudley Moore) fantasizes about how he will deal with his wife Daniella (Nastassja Kinski), but in this modern version we only get to see one option, that being how he will murder her.

In the fantasy it plays out perfectly as it involves a seemingly smart ploy to frame her supposed lover Max (Armand Assante), but the reality contains a lot of pratfalls and characters acting in a completely different manner to the way Claude imagined they would. That it’s a far worse film than the original won’t come as a surprise to many, remakes normally are, but that it’s such a simpler version of events may confuse, and the 1948 version is far more nuanced and a lot darker as well.

That’s partially due to the missing fantasies, as originally Rex Harrison’s conductor murders his wife in a far more distressing manner, even if the actual killing isn’t actually shown, but while a short fantasy of him being understanding and giving the cheating couple a great deal of money to start a new life isn’t essential to proceedings, a fantasy where he forces the couple in to playing Russian Roulette is deeply fascinating. It not only shows just how psychologically damaged our lead is, but the way it backfires is absolutely horrendous, and a bizarrely bleak moment in something which is otherwise a comedy.

There are some aspects of the eighties version that do work, Albert Brooks as Claude’s manager is a fun creation who has some amusing throwaway lines, the best of which see him discuss Claude performing in China and commenting that even “If they hate you two million people will come by accident looking for a restaurant”. Assante is fairly decent as Claude’s partner and the man he suspects screwed his wife, and the scenes where they talk about his affair with both of them unaware of the other’s knowledge of what has taken place is mildly amusing.

There’s also a lot of sex jokes which wouldn’t have been possible in the original, but this is unsurprisingly an occasion where most of them aren’t funny, with Claude commenting “The breasts…those are terrific” and making a joke about performing oral sex on The Queen especially tiresome. There’s also a completely pointless brief bit of nudity from Kinski, and though this is slightly more violent than the Harrison version it’s less chilling, and so less shocking and less effective.

Rex Harrison was superb in the lead role and Moore was always going to be on a hiding to nothing in comparison but he is actually fairly good most of the time. He fails to capture the manic energy that Harrison brought to the first movie however, and while Kinski is fine she gets very little to do than either be madly in love or frustrated by Moore’s actions, and the lack of the two other fantasies means it’s a duller performance as well.

I enjoyed it a great deal as a kid as I was easily pleased back then, and if I hadn’t recently watched the original I might have liked this a little more. The languorous first hour and overall simplification means it’s a lot less striking than Sturges’ 1948 version however, the performances are fine but rarely more than that, and as with nearly all remakes it is a movie that serves no real purpose and has no real reason to exist.

★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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