Thursday, April 26, 2012


Priam Farll is a famous British artist who has escaped the unwanted glare of the spotlight by living alone, with only his valet, on an island in the East Indies for 25 years.  One day, Priam gets the news that he is wanted back in London to receive a knighthood.  Reluctantly, they go back but on their first night there, the valet takes ill and dies of pneumonia.  The attending doctor mistakes the two men's names and declares that Priam Farll is dead.  Since the valet had no immediate family, Farll doesn't correct the mistake and decides to live a quiet life under his valet's name, Henry Leek.  Unfortunately, the press goes wild with the news, there is national mourning, and Leek winds up buried in Westminster Abbey as Farll.  There's also another complication:  Leek had arranged an assignation with a woman through a matrimonial bureau.  Through a mix-up involving a photograph of Farll and Leek together, the woman, Alice, thinks that Farll really is Leek.  Luckily, the two hit it off and wind up married, with Alice completely unaware of her husband's real identity.  For the first time in his life, Farll is happy but over the next couple of years, more complications arise:  first, it turns out that Leek was already married and his wife and her three husky sons show up; later, a scandal involving new paintings of Farll's that are being sold as lost masterpieces threatens to expose his subterfuge, to the public and to his wife.

This is a charming low-key comedy which, for about the first hour, is almost perfect: witty dialogue, strong performances, unusual plotline.  Monty Woolley anchors the film as Farll, playing him as a comic figure who doesn't think much of his fellow man, a bit like his Sheridan Whiteside in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, though his character is less broad and cartoonish here.  Gracie Fields, a famous comic actress in England, brings a real humanity to the role of Alice, who takes whatever comes her way in stride.  Eric Blore as the valet (pictured above to the left of Woolley) only has a couple of scenes, but he leaves a strong impression that lasts through the film.  There is a great supporting cast including Una O'Connor as Leek's widow; Franklin Pangborn giving one of his least flitty performances as a cousin of Leek's; Melville Cooper as the doctor; Ethel Griffes as a rich patron of the arts; Laird Cregar as an art dealer; and George Zucco in a too-small part as a barrister.  The last half-hour bogs down in courtroom shenanigans, and Farll acts in odd ways that don't seem consistent with his character, serving only to lengthen the running time.  Still, quite a lovely little gem.  Two memorable lines:  Woolley to Blore on his deathbed: "Don’t make a confession until you feel the rigor mortis setting in."  Later, when someone tells Woolley his wife is a huge fan of his art, Woolley says he left England because of her; the man, taking him literally, says, "You know my wife?"  Woolley replies, in his driest manner, "I speak, of course, in hyperbole." [TCM]

No comments: