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It is the fifth anniversary of the death of Adolphe Noblet who died in a train wreck. His servant and friends still worship him but don't care much for his wife Sylvaine's second husband Gustave with whom she has recently had a child. Sylvaine's friends recommend that she use a new hairdresser, Leopold Trebel. However, when this womanizing coiffeur arrives, he turns out to be Adolphe suffering from amnesia. A doctor restores his memory using hypnosis but in the process wipes out everything that has happened to him over the last five years. Adolphe thinks he has been unconscious for only a few hours and the doctor tries to keep the truth from him thinking the shock could kill him. This becomes even more difficult as Leopold's wife, with whom he has had two sets of twins, shows up and insists he is Leopold. Gustave finally tells Adolphe/Leopold the truth and he is left with the decision of which man and in which family he wants to be. Written by
Brian Cady <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"The Matrimonial Bed" can serve as a primer for people who want to understand French boulevard farce. Mistimed entrances, interruptions, mass confusion and mistaken identities all combine to create a whirlwind comedy. One guesses that this was racier on the stage than it is on the screen, and yet the sexual implications of the plot resonate throughout.
Juliette Corton has been married to Gustave for three years, her first husband Adolph five years dead in a train wreck. Adolph was one swell guy, or as everybody who knew him says: "What a man!" (This causes Gustave near-terminal chagrin.) On the fifth anniversary of Adolph's death, his friends gather to drink his health. On this occasion, Juliette needs an emergency hairdresser, and her new maid recommends Leopold Trebel. When Trebel arrives, we learn that he is a ladykiller who is irresistible. Oh, and he's the living image of Adolph. Uh-oh. Actually, he is Adolph with five years worth of amnesia and no idea why everybody is so dumbstruck at the sight of him.
That's when things spin out of control and nobody is sure who is whose husband or wife. Hypnotized back into being Adolph, the former hairdresser must deal not only with his wife being married (with a baby!) but also must dodge the attentions of two of the hairdresser's conquests and, in the bargain, his wife who is the mother of his four children.
Frank Fay carries off the dual role so splendidly that we completely forget what utter nonsense this is. His performance is stunned and delirious as he tries to come to terms with his predicament. He carries the movie. Or, more precisely, he carries the play, for this is very much a filmed play; director Michael Curtiz takes a resolutely uncinematic approach to the material. But that actually enhances the fun as we see the characters whizzing in and out the doors that are essential to French farce. A more cinematic treatment would have undermined the farce structure, diluting the comings and goings into mere plot elements.
While the material may seem dated today, it is well to remember that it contains all the elements of farce that informed later forays into this territory such as "My Favorite Wife." Just sit back and watch the doors open and close. You'll get dizzy. As you should.
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