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John M. Stahl
Famed English painter Priam Farll has spent the last 25 years living in various remote locations with only his trusted manservant, Henry Leek, for company. While Farll is summoned to London to receive a knighthood, Leek falls ill and dies. Wishing to avoid the ostentation knighthood ceremony, the reclusive painter assumes his valet's identity. Farll, posing as Leek, soon receives a letter from Alice Chalice, a widow who has been corresponding with Leek through a marriage bureau and is expecting to finally meet her beloved in person... Written by
At approximately 1:05:54 into the film, the well-lit wall close behind the two main characters suddenly cuts to darkness, as though simulating a night scene, and after seven seconds returns to daylight brightness; all while the ongoing dialogue through the two cuts flows smoothly. See more »
When talking about the great writers of Great Britain from 1880 - 1940, one thinks of Wilde, Shaw, Wells, James, Conrad, Hardy, Kipling, Stevenson - maybe Conan Doyle, Beerbohm, Chesterton. There is one name that was once fully worthy of being listed in this group, but this person has sort of vanished (except for one novel) from public attention. The writer was Arnold Bennett. In his day novels like CLAYHANGER, RICEYMAN STEPS, THE CARD, and BURIED ALIVE were known around the English-speaking world. Bennett was the chronicler of the "Five Town" area of London, where his main fiction characters (usually lower or blue-collar types) came from - for Bennett came from that area originally. In the film THE CARD (with Alec Guinness and Glynnis John) there is a statement at the start that mentions the Five-Towns.
But after Bennett died in 1931, his readership disappeared. The sole exception was THE OLD WIVES TALE, a grown-up view of the unsuccessful married lives of two sisters. The others were basically forgotten.
Aside from Guinness's THE CARD, the only other Bennett novel to reach the screen was BURIED ALIVE, made twice into sound films (in 1933 with Roland Young and Lillian Gish, and in this 1943 film, HOLY MATRIMONY). It is a wonderful comedy, and gave Monty Wooley another specialized film to give his patented irascibility full flower. Here he plays Priam Farli, the leading English painter of his day, who returns from the South Seas to be knighted, only to find that his dead valet (Eric Blore) is mistakenly identified as him. The valet is buried in Westminster Abbey (with King Edward VII in attendance) while Wooley watches from the public benchs. Wooley sets up a house, under his valet's name, and hires Gracie Fields as his housekeeper. Eventually they fall in love and marry. But money is running out, and Fields (noting her husband's artistic abilities) sells several to a dealer (Laird Cregar). Cregar recognizes them as Farli's pictures and sells them very quickly. But one of the buyers finds that the picture she bought was of an incident that happened after Farli died. Cregar is sued, and confronts Wooley. Eventually it boils down to a second legal problem: that Wooley finds his valet was married before, and never got a divorce. Confronted with bigamy charges (the first wife, Una O'Connor, can't recognize Wooley is her husband or not), Wooley is finally confronted with the only way of identifying himself as Farli or the Valet - by physical means that he opposes revealing.
All the performances are wonderful, led by Wooley and Fields (who would do a second film, MOLLY AND ME, in a year). Cregar's Clive Oxford again showed he could play comedy (possibly even more subtlety than we think - Hector Arce's biography of Tyrone Power mentions that Power noticed that his friend Cregar coughed in a suggestive manner as though to suggest that Oxford was a homosexual who disapproved of his secretary's preening herself). Even George Zucco, normally a master of film menace, here managed to portray a prosecuting barrister doing slow burn after slow burn when dealing with the irrascible Wooley in court. Altogether a grand show. And a good place to go in order to get reacquainted with a forgotten literary master.
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