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"Holy Matrimony" existed for me only as legend for the longest time. My father's friend Bill Gitt (renowned projectionist and elder brother of film preservationist Bob) was a great fan of this and often spoke of it, though I can't recall ever seeing it as a young lad. But I searched long and hard and finally tracked down a DVD of it (not a bad print at all), and it is truly enchanting. Marvelous, marvelous performance by Monty Woolley, in a very understated mood -- those who know him only from "The Man Who Came to Dinner" will, I think, be quite pleasantly surprised by his work here and, from Gracie Fields, a miraculous one. The first time I watched it I thought, well, she doesn't do much. But then I wanted to see it again almost immediately. And it's true, she doesn't do much, but the little things she does are simply exquisite. A great, really subtle performance, not at all played for laughs, but funny all the same. Her delivery of the simple line, "That's it," is a lesson in charming simplicity. John M. Stahl, that strange, almost mythical director, has a marvelous effect on actors (see, for example, Adolphe Menjou in "Letter of Introduction," where he really plays sincerity... well, sincerely): without fancy photography, he seems able to give them an almost mystical radiance. And he has an amazing cast of character actors to work with here: Eric Blore, Una O'Connor, Alan Mowbray, George Zucco, Laird Cregar, Melville Cooper, Ethel Griffies. A superb Nunnally Johnson script (his best?) and an excellent score (Cyril Mockridge) -- typical of Fox films of the 40s and early 50s. A film worth seeking out, one you will want to watch time and again.
When talking about the great writers of Great Britain from 1880 - 1940,
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
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
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.
This gentle and beautiful comedy has a tone and mood uniquely its own. It is so soft and so gentle that it seems to be made of liquid, and with such a great cast it is a delicious liquid. Monty Woolley and Gracie Fields are wonderful together - they are both such warm and truthful performers. And the entire supporting cast is superb. The script is strong, and the direction finely-tuned. A truly lovely picture.
This is one of those sheer delights that get overlooked and then rediscovered to one's great joy. It is charmingly written, directed and acted and So Veddy British in its outlook. A famous painter whom no one has ever seen due to his hatred of publicity returns to England from his jungle home to be knighted. His servant dies of pneumonia and the examining doctor mistakes him for the painter and the painter for the servant. This rather delights the painter, irascibly played by Monty Woolley. Complications arise when it seems his man did not tell him entirely about the life he has decided to subsume, including having arranged through a marriage brokerage to find a wife (no nonsense and take charge performance by Gracie Fields) as well as the fact that he is already married (Una O'Connor) with a bevy of grown sons. Suffice to say Woolley marries Fields and continues painting under his assumed identity, but complications arise when paintings being sold as originals are proved to have been painted after the supposed death of the artist and when former wife sues for bigamy. This screenplay adaptation deserved and earned an Oscar nom. The cinematography also deserved a nod. Seek it out if you can find it and prepare to be utterly charmed. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film was shown on TCM tonight for the first time. I thought it was
outstanding for a film made in 1943.
First, Monty Woolley (as Priam Farll) was his typical curmudgeonly self as many might remember him from "The Man Who Came to Dinner". This was much more subtle and very funny. The plot involves a request from the King to return to England to be knighted as the Empire's preeminent impressionist artist. En route, his valet, who does not enjoy the isolation (he is on some South Seas island when the King's request reaches him) as much as his boss, catches "double pneumonia" and promptly dies on their arrival back in England.
Owing to the circumstances of being called out in the middle of the night, the doctor assumes that the man being attended to was Priam Farll when in fact it was his butler, Henry Leek. Priam, not really wanting the hubbub associated with being knighted, decides improvidently to assume the guise of his butler and live in obscurity. Unfortunately, there are too many circumstances that intervene. His butler on his death bed wanted to confess to some things. Priam, of course, wouldn't hear of it and the confessions become readily apparent in short order as the story progresses. It turns out that the butler was courting a woman who thinks that Priam is Henry Leek based on a photograph. Now this woman (played most ably by Gracie Fields), it turns out, is very perceptive and helps Priam out of a number of scrapes.
The film is delightful; it is a comedy that provided many a laugh out loud moment. I hope that it becomes available on DVD. I'd buy it.
The resolution of Priam's problems are acceptable to all and captures the attitude of many artists about their work. I would recommend this film anyone who wanted to watch with a cigar and a glass of port. Cheers!!!
This is a virtually flawless little gem. Quiet, perfectly paced.
Actors who do only caricature in most movies - Franklin Pangborn - show that they can actually act here. Eric Blore gets a death scene. Imagine that! Everything just moves on, with a warm charm that never descends into the sentimental, much less the saccharine. The timing is perfect.
It's not witty. It's not particularly clever, though it is certainly humorous at times. You like the main characters, though they certainly have their faults.
I'm starting to repeat myself here to fill enough lines, and I don't want to blather on. But if you get a chance, watch this movie. It's just very well done.
Monty Wooley is British artist Priam Farll in "Holy Matrimony" from
1943. Farll is a reclusive painter living in a remote area with his
manservant, Henry Leek (Franklin Pangborn). The two return to London
when Farll is told he is going to receive a knighthood. Leek, however,
becomes ill with pneumonia and dies. When the physician mistakes him
for Farll, Farll goes along with it and takes on Leek's identity. This
way, he can avoid the knighthood ceremony, which he dreads.
Then Farll receives a letter from one Alice Chalice (Gracie Fields), a widow who has been in correspondence with Leek through a marriage bureau and is expecting to meet him. A complication.
That's a tame complication compared to what's coming. Leek, apparently, was already married (to Una O'Connor) and has two grown sons. She sues for bigamy. Farll and Chalice marry, and he continues to paint, but that causes problems too. His paintings are being sold as originals, but he was supposedly dead when they were painted.
Amusing film with wonderful performances and a good story. Wooley is great as a stubborn man who is determined to protect his privacy and hold onto the life he has. Gracie Fields gives a very straightforward, honest performance as the strong Alice. And Franklin Pangborn is his usual delightful self, though we see way too little of him.
Any movie, even a bad one, is better if Money Woolley is in it. So,
regardless of the quality of "Holy Matrimony", it was on my must-see
list as it stars this wonderful and under-appreciated man. If you have
a chance, read up about him...he was a VERY interesting character and
acting was only his second career. The first one will probably surprise
As usual, Woolley plays a very talented misanthrope. He's Priam Farll, a famous artist who hates people and lives with his manservant (Eric Blore) on an island. He's also not at all happy when he learns he's to be knighted but reluctantly agrees to leave for the ceremony. On the way, his servant becomes deathly ill and the doctor mistakenly thinks the now deceased man was Priam....and Priam decides to take advantage of this and remain incognito. Let the world think he's dead...and let him go back to his wonderful, isolated life! However, he has a change of heart...but by then, no one believes that he IS the famous man! Obviously there's much more to the story than this, as all this happens just in the first 15 minutes or so of the movie! What is next? See for yourself--I don't want to spoil the fun--and this IS a fun little film. It won't disappoint and is exquisitely written and very well acted.
By the way, the folks at 20th Century Fox Studios must have loved the pairing of Gracie Fields and Monty Woolley, as they both starred in a wonderful film immediately after this one..."Molly and Me".
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