Holy Matrimony (1943) Poster

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Is there a lovelier, more delightful film?
tentender2 June 2009
"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.
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A Forgotten Literary Giant
theowinthrop1 May 2004
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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Utterly charming.
David-24017 January 2000
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.
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good movie
blanche-214 August 2014
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.
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Case of purposeful mistaken taken to logical extreme
CineNutty4 February 2012
Warning: 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!!!
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You definitely want to treat yourself to this movie
richard-17879 July 2014
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.
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A funny, sweet and enjoyable case of mistaken identity....
MartinHafer17 September 2015
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 you!

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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It's really quite simple.
mark.waltz7 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
They certainly were some unlikely leading actors in the 1930' and 40's, and Monty Woolley is certainly one of the most memorable. After the success of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" on Broadway and on film, his career as a leading character actor was assured. 20th Century Fox quickly signed him to a contract, and he made two films with British star Gracie Fields, the first of which is this excellent comedy where he plays Priam Farll, a British artist who has been living in seclusion in Africa with valet Eric Blore. Upon learning that he is to be honored, Woolley returns to England with Blore who is quickly diagnosed with a case of pneumonia and sadly dies. The doctor mistakenly believes that Blore is Farll, and Woolley assumes Blore's identity while Blore is buried in Westminster Abbey. Wooly make the acquaintance of Fields, a pen pal of Blore's, and entranced by her quickly proposes. this leads to a set of complications when Fields begins to sell wooly's paintings, giving suspicions to the belief that Farll is still alive.

Having been a British film in the 1930's, this light-hearted comedy is beautifully remade, and Woolley is perfectly capped. Don't expect to see Sheridan Whiteside, the columnist of "The Man Who Came to Dinner", in his characterization. They look and sound alike, but that is where the likeness ends. Woolley only has a few aggressive moments here, playing a basically gentle character who is only ascerbic when he needs to be. One of those moments comes when Una O'Connor shows up claiming to be his wife, accusing him of bigamy. But thanks to the quick thinking of field, she quickly scurries away. When Fields begins to sell Woolley's paintings, artist representative Laird Cregar realize this the truth, threatening to expose Woolley's identity.

In the 1960's, Broadway composer Jule Styne wrote "Darling of the Day" for Vincent Price and British musical star Patricia Routledge, scoring her a Tony award. Unfortunately, it was short-lived but in the past 50 years, has gained a reputation as an underrated musical. The cast album is a collector's treasure, and for those who enjoy this film, the cast album is equally as delightful. Woolley and Fields are a perfect match, and her gentle performance shows a woman of wit and grace and intelligence who would make any man proud. There's also Norma Varden, Ethel Griffies, Franklin Pangborn, Melville Cooper and other familiar character actors, and a script that is genuinely perfect.
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Much too inferior to its fore-runner
sb-47-60873724 December 2019
There was another, ten years back, His Double Life - that of course had a bit more talented lead, in Roland Young and incomparable Lil Gish. Here naturally Gracie was miscast - since it required a dramatic presence, of course not that Gracie was as eyesore as her over-acting male counterpart. But the major shortcoming of it wasn't much in acting department as - and ironically the one in which it won Academy ! - the conceptualisation. That's where the first one reduces it to pygmy level. I haven't gone through the story from which both were made, so I can't comment on which had been better adapted, but being unbiased on that aspect, naturally all my first as well as optional votes go to the 1933 version. And of course it once again makes one wonder, why are the remakes, even when almost copy, are always inferior ? Only the actors ? Which of course had been on the decline from the golden age, but here it had been much more. In 1933, the hero was Enochlophobic, whereas in the 1943, he was more of unsocial. The behaviour that were much better explained by the phobia, were not explainable by the just being unsocial. And if the director wanted him to have the phobia, they missed it by large margin. The mix-up which changed the bodies (and identities) were similarly much more plausible - the bed, the dressing gown, and realisation while both alive and deciding to go along, and the logic were much more plausible. Even quite a bit of story sequences had been changed - later one earlier and earlier one later - and not for good. For example, the first wife arrival - in the 1933, there was alerady a suspicion in Lilain's mind, due to Oxford's visit, and also claim by Lilian that she knew that the husband had been 'virgin' or whatever equivalent, before they married, but here it was a clear proved case of bigamy, and hence protection was not simply understood, nor was the refusal to show moles on very flimsy stand. The Phobia was definitely a much stronger ground. And the second irony (along with the Academy Award) is the IMDb scores - that was is about a point less than this ! I agree that Young's character was - well one could call sissy - but he was supposed to be like that, and should be a merit than demerit. Even thouh he too kmight have gone a bit overboard, but Lilian was a counterfoil. As usual - recomemndation, skip it and go for "His Double Life" of 1933.
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