Saturday, June 30, 2018

Holy Matrimony

Holy Matrimony. Una O'Connor (Sarah Leek), Gracie Fields (Alice Chalice, married to who whe believes is Henry Leek), Monty Woolley (Priam Farll posing as Henry Leek). Sarah makes an accusation of bigamy. "I hope there are not more of them", states Alice to her husband after she has scared the real Leek family away.

Eläköön avioliitto / Leve äktenskapet / Una moglie in più.
    Director: John M. Stahl. Year: 1943. Country: USA.
    Sog.: dal romanzo Buried Alive [1908] di Arnold Bennett [in Finnish: Elävältä haudattu, 1921]. Scen.: Nunnally Johnson. F.: Lucien Ballard. M.: James B. Clark. Scgf.: James Basevi, J. Russell Spencer. Mus.: Cyril J. Mockridge. Int.: Monty Woolley (Priam Farll), Gracie Fields (Alice Chalice), Laird Cregar (Clive Oxford), Una O’Connor (Sarah Leek), Alan Mowbray (signor Pennington), Franklin Pangborn (Duncan Farll), George Zucco (signor Crepitude), Eric Blore (Henry Leek). Prod.: 20th Century-Fox. 35 mm. D.: 93’. Bn.
    Print from 20th Century Fox.
    Courtesy of Park Circus.
    Introduce Ehsan Khoshbakht.
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Immortal Imitations: The Cinema of John M. Stahl, 30 June 2018

Ehsan Khoshbakht (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "In 1905, Priam Farll, a nationally celebrated English painter who has been living in seclusion on a remote tropical island, is drawn back to civilisation having received notice from the king of England that he is to be honoured with a knighthood. Upon his arrival in London, Farll’s loyal valet Leek unexpectedly dies. By a curious mix of honest mistake and mischief, Farll swaps his identity for the dead valet’s, which leads to chaos, confusion and trickery. All attempts to correct are ineffective: people believe what they want to believe."

"Holy Matrimony is a supreme variation on Stahl’s favourite theme of concealed or mistaken identities. Here the secrecy is twofold. Despite their amiable relationship, Farll is oblivious to the married Leek’s correspondence with another woman, a widow named Alice Chalice, whom he meets at his ‘funeral’ at Westminster. Alice is also kept in the dark about the true identity of the man she meets, having only seen a photograph of the painter and the valet together beforehand."

"While comic touches are never absent in Stahl’s work, even in his sombre melodramas, here, unlike less successful comedic efforts such as Our Wife (1941, screwball comedy/melodrama) and Oh, You Beautiful Doll (1949, musical/comedy), Stahl’s economical and invisible style is close to perfection."

"The film is aided by a superb cast. Monty Woolley, who repeats some of the earlier success he had with The Man Who Came to Dinner (William Keighley, 1942), is wonderful as the fussy, arrogant artist who gradually comes to earth and learns to like more than just himself. As is Gracie Fields as the strong-willed Alice, who tames and charms Farll. A personal favourite of screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, the same story had previously been filmed at least three times under the titles The Great Adventure (1915 and 1921) and His Double Life (1933)."
Ehsan Khoshbakht

AA: At Twentieth Century-Fox John Stahl expanded his horizon to new genres and discovered new kinds of stars. In 1943 he directed a war film (Immortal Sergeant) and a comedy (Holy Matrimony).

Nunnally Johnson's brilliant screenplay based on the novel by Arnold Bennett is directed with a good sense of humour by Stahl. The film is story-driven and character-driven. The humour arises both from situations and characters.

Priam Farll is England's greatest living painter, but he wants to live in peace, hates public attention and is grateful for being presumed dead. Yet he is profoundly moved when he attends his own funeral as a gate-crasher in Westminster Abbey and cries so loud at the wonderful eulogy that he disturbs the ceremony.

Alice Chalice has been in romantic correspondence with Henry Leek, Farll's valet, whose identity Priam has assumed. Alice immediately takes command of the relationship, steers Farll ingeniously back to the Abbey as a guest of honour, and fields impeccably the intrusion of the family of the real Henry Leek. They create a happy home together although Alice does not know who her husband is.

That insight makes the comedy of Holy Matrimony special. When Alice and Priam meet in front of Westminster Abbey they are perfect strangers. But immediately they become partners in non-conformism, and that is a good point to start. Priam is very happy that Alice does not know who he is in public life. Their holy matrimony is based on their happiness as private human beings.

Complications arise when Priam cannot stop painting, and his paintings start to leak back to the marketplace. Alice has no sense of art, and even in this dimension she does not know who her husband is, but that, too, is fine with Priam, who wants to separate his public life from his private life. For Alice 15 pounds is a high price for a painting whose actual market value is 5000 pounds.

The film is also a satire of the art market. A fine painting may be worth little, but when there is a master's signature, there is a 10 000% profit. Accusations of forgery lead to a trial, and Priam finally must come back from the dead. He also has to give up his happy home in Putney, but together with Alice they move to Australia.

"Home is where the heart is" is the final motto of this conventional and unconventional story.

Holy Matrimony introduces to me two great performers, Monty Woolley and Gracie Fields, whose work I know previously from supporting roles only. Their performances are wonderfully original, humoristic and surprising. Holy Matrimony is also a film with a consistently great cast where everybody seems to be relishing their parts.

A fine print from 20th Century Fox.



The working titles of this film were Buried Alive and Indian Summer. Arnold Bennett used his book as the basis for a play entitled The Great Adventure (Glasgow, Scotland, 18 Sep 1911). Nunnally Johnson's onscreen credit reads "Produced and Written for the Screen by Nunnally Johnson." According to HR news items, Johnson and Irving Pichel both served as fill-in directors while John Stahl was ill. Although a HR news item stated that, "in response to an avalanche of fanmail from this country and England," Gracie Fields would sing "She Was Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage" and "The Biggest Aspidistra in the World" in the film, the numbers were not included in the picture. Holy Matrimony marked Fields's first leading role in a picture filmed in the United States. Actor Whit Bissell, who is listed as Whitner Bissell in reviews, made his screen-acting debut in the picture, which also marked the last screen appearance of actor Montagu Love, who died shortly after completing his work in the film. The picture was selected as one of the ten best films of 1943 by the National Board of Review. Johnson's screenplay received an Academy Award nomination.

Bennett's novel and play were also the basis for a 1915 British film entitled The Great Adventure , directed by Larry Trimble and starring Henry Ainley and Esme Hubbard; the 1921 Whitman Bennett film The Great Adventure , directed by Kenneth Webb and starring Lionel Barrymore and Doris Rankin (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-20 ; F2.2216); and the 1934 Eddie Dowling Pictures production His Double Life , directed by Arthur Hopkins and starring Roland Young and Lillian Gish (see AFI Catalog of Feature Film, 1931-40 ; F3.1924). In the 1934 version, Montagu Love played "Priam's" cousin "Duncan." On 10 May 1954, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a version of the story starring Charles Laughton and Fay Bainter.


Monty Woolley / Priam Farll, also known as Henry Leek
Gracie Fields / Alice Challice
Laird Cregar / Clive Oxford
Una O'Connor / Sarah Leek
Alan Mowbray / Pennington
Melville Cooper / Dr. Caswell
Franklin Pangborn / Duncan Farll
Ethel Griffies / Lady Vale
Eric Blore / Henry Leek
George Zucco / Crepitude
Fritz Feld / First critic
Montagu Love / Judge
Richard Fraser / John Leek
Edwin Maxwell / King Edward VII
Whit Bissell, Whitner Bissell / Matthew Leek
Geoffrey Steele / Harry Leek
Leyland Hodgson / Solicitor
William Austin / Second critic
Lumsden Hare / Lady Vale's footman
Thomas Louden / Court clerk
Ian Wolfe / Stawley
Milton Parsons / Clerk
Alec Craig / Aylmer
Yorke Sherwood / Cabby
Billy Bevan / Cabby


In 1905, famed English painter Priam Farll, who abhors society and has lived as a recluse in the British East Indies for twenty-five years, receives a summons to return to England to receive a knighthood. Grumbling all the way, Priam travels to England accompanied by his devoted valet, Henry Leek. Henry falls ill during the journey, and Priam sends for a doctor upon their arrival. Henry dies from pneumonia, and Priam, eager to avoid the knighthood ceremony, does not correct the doctor when he assumes that Henry was Priam, and that Priam is the valet.

The doctor puts Priam's name on the death certificate, and soon Priam watches as his cousin, Duncan Farll, leads the mourners at his memorial service. Priam's bemusement turns to chagrin, however, when King Edward VII appears and announces that the artist will be buried at Westminster Abbey. Angry at having cheated himself out of this honor, Priam attends the funeral and creates such a ruckus that he is thrown out of the abbey.

As two policemen are questioning him outside, Priam is rescued by assertive Alice Challice, who tells them that he is Henry Leek. Priam is amazed that Alice knows about Henry and learns that Henry had been corresponding with her after obtaining her address from a matrimonial bureau and had sent her a picture of himself with Priam. Although aware that Alice has mistaken him for Henry, Priam again does not identify himself. Soothed by Alice's stability and devotion, Priam soon marries her, and the couple settle down to quiet domestic happiness in Putney.

Priam continues to paint, although he keeps his art supplies hidden to avoid arousing Alice's suspicions. Priam and Alice's contentment is disturbed by the sudden appearance of Sarah Leek and her three grown sons, John, Matthew and Harry. Sarah claims to be Henry's first wife, whom he deserted many years before, but Alice gets rid of her by insinuating that Priam is insane, and that the scandal that would result from Sarah's allegations would ruin the boys's seminary careers.

Later, trouble again presents itself when the couple are short of money and Alice cannot meet that year's mortgage payment. Wanting to help, Priam finally confesses his real identity to Alice and shows her his paintings, which he says can be sold for large sums. Alice, however, thinks that the strain of worry has "confused" Priam and gently dissuades him from persisting with his assertions. When she learns that a picture framer will pay £15 for Priam's paintings, however, she sells them without Priam's knowledge.

Their life resumes its quiet pace until a year later, when Lady Vale, who has been buying Priam's latest paintings from a prestigious art gallery run by Clive Oxford, discovers that they could only have been painted since Priam's supposed death. She brings a suit against Oxford, alleging that he fraudulently sold the paintings as authentic Priam Farlls. Oxford, who has met Priam and gotten him to confess the truth, wants Priam to testify on his behalf, but Priam is angered by the situtation, as Oxford has been making a huge profit on the paintings.

Alice, who now believes her husband, fears that the attention will destroy their marriage, and Priam determines not to help either Lady Vale or Oxford with his testimony. When Sarah appears in court and states that Priam is her husband, however, Alice asserts herself once again. Alice forces Priam to show two moles on his collarbone, thereby proving that he is Priam Farll and not Henry Leek. After the case is settled, Priam and Alice move to a remote jungle, where they recreate their Putney home and return to their ordinary, happy domestic life.

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