Unfaithfully Yours, released in 1948, was the last major film to be written, produced, and directed by Preston Sturges. It ranks high in importance as a late example of “screwball” comedy from the genre's golden age, and as one of the funniest features about classical music ever made. The story centers on Sir Alfred de Carter, an idiosyncratic British conductor (modeled on Sir Thomas Beecham, as played by Rex Harrison), who suddenly becomes suspicious of his wife's infidelity. Jealous to the point of madness, he conducts a concert of three nineteenth-century works: Rossini's Overture to Semiramide (1823), Wagner's Overture to Tannhäuser (1845), and Tchaikovsky's tone poem Francesca da Rimini (1877), and while doing so the film shows us his imagined fantasy scenarios as inspired by the music. Placed within a soundtrack richly filled with voices and effects (often hilariously distorted), the film takes each concert work from objective foreground to ambiguous background status and back again, then deconstructs the three in more cartoonish ways during the final half hour. With reference to studio source materials, to the original significance of each concert work, and to earlier and later films using classical music, the article presents a reading of the film's meanings and shows how it took up the argument about the role of classical music within America's democratic culture.
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