If I’d had to guess, I’d say remaking Preston Sturges and having it work to any degree was impossible. Unfaithfully Yours proves me wrong. Instead of doing a–no pun intended–faithful remake, this version is more geared as a Dudley Moore comedy. It’s not a stretch for Moore (though he does, eventually, get to do some great physical comedy) but he’s good, even if it is the kind of role he can sleep through. The script plots out these fantastic set pieces–the last act is spectacular, even if the denouement is a disaster–but there’s great ones throughout. There’s a dueling violins scene between Moore and Armand Assante, which is probably director Howard Zieff’s high point.
Zieff’s an indistinct director, so the script is what makes Unfaithfully Yours work. The scenes between Moore and Albert Brooks–Brooks’s character in general–are great. They made me wonder why Unfaithfully Yours is either dismissed or unknown. Moore’s character being slight never really affects the film’s quality, because of the comedic payoff in the last act, but Nastassja Kinski ruins it. She’s trying to mask her native accent as an Italian one and it doesn’t work. It’s an unpleasant mix of confusing and confounding. She gives the film’s only weak performance, but since her character–married to the older Moore–has to be believable and she never manages, it’s a damning problem.
Assante’s rather good (I never thought I’d believe him as a classical violinist) and Richard Libertini’s got some hilarious moments (Libertini has no problem trading in his Massachusetts accent for an Italian one) and the whole production has a good tone. Bill Conti’s score is playful, the New York locations look great. The scenes with Albert Brooks do look, strangely, like they’re from a different movie in terms of lighting and editing, but they help carry Unfaithfully Yours to its conclusion. The first three-quarters of the film is amusing (it survives an opening 1980s voiceover) but it’s never particularly good. The script’s got strong dialogue exchanges, a few good set pieces, but it never gives away the eventual payoff.
And for someone expecting a more direct lift of the Sturges (like me), it’s a big surprise and a nice one.
It’s just a shame it all falls apart in the last scene. Unfaithfully Yours transitions, in the last few moments, from being a comedy to being a romantic comedy (pejorative intended). It makes it less successful, but it’s still a fine movie.
Directed by Howard Zieff; screenplay by Valerie Curtin, Barry Levinson and Robert Klane, based on a screenplay by Preston Sturges; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Sheldon Karr; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Joe Wizan and Marvin Worth; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring Dudley Moore (Claude Eastman), Nastassja Kinski (Daniella Eastman), Armand Assante (Maxmillian Stein), Albert Brooks (Norman Robbins), Cassie Yates (Carla Robbins) and Richard Libertini (Giuseppe).