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  Constant Husband, The You Must Be The Wives
Year: 1955
Director: Sidney Gilliat
Stars: Rex Harrison, Margaret Leighton, Kay Kendall, Cecil Parker, Nicole Maurey, Raymond Huntley, Robert Coote, Eric Pohlmann, Marie Burke, George Cole, Derek Sydney, Michael Hordern, Valerie French, Ursula Howells, Jill Adams, Roma Dumville
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Imagine waking up in a hotel room, completely unaware of whereabouts you are, and when you look in the mirror you do not recognise yourself. That is what has happened to this man (Rex Harrison) who pulls on the clothes he finds and ventures downstairs and outside, finding he has no idea of what language anyone in this harbour town is speaking. What's next is that he discovers they are conversing in Welsh, so he is still in the British Isles, but as he cannot understand them he reasons he can't be a native to this corner of the land, so when he collapses, he is rushed to hospital to be examined. The doctor (Cecil Parker) is very interested in what he is sure is a case of amnesia, and makes up his mind to help this man find his...

The Constant Husband began from an irresistible premise, one that was not exactly original even in 1955, where you have your protagonist awaken with no memory of their past, then play out the rest of the film with him attempting to rediscover himself. Although amnesia is a real condition, it is not half as common as the movies and television would have you believe, and it was not usually going to affect the sufferer in quite the same way as the blank slate effects of what happened to Harrison here. But director/producer Sidney Gilliat and his regular partner Frank Launder, who specialised in comedy (though not exclusively), were playing around with more than their main character's memories, as they were playing with audience expectations into the bargain.

That was down to leading man Harrison's popular reputation as an utter cad, a serial womaniser who had left a string of broken hearts behind him and at least one dead ex (starlet Carole Landis) he was rumoured to be responsible for, so to have him as this innocent character going through the revelation that in his previous existence he was, yes, an utter cad was both cheeky and maybe a tad irresponsible as well. He certainly convinced as a man horrified at his previous behaviour, and that might have been the case in his real life as well, for around this point he had settled on the woman he wanted to stay with, Kay Kendall. She appeared here as the first wife he encounters - oh, there are others - and was her usual engaging self, with noticeable chemistry with Harrison when he was acting as if there was not.

Kendall, tragically, was not long for this world and would be dead before the nineteen-fifties were out, part of the reason she enjoys a cult following that Harrison could only dream of, but he matched the bright, breezy, silly tone of the film very well. What it did effectively was throw all sorts of surprises in the path of the confused serial husband, which grew more outlandish the further he found out about himself. What should have helped him along the way was if he was just honest about himself with those who recognised him: he had no idea who they were nor what wickedness he had gotten up to because he was an amnesiac, but for motives best known to himself he prefers to bluff his way through conversations with, say, the human cannonball (Nicole Maurey) who insists he stick around with her with cod-Italian gesturing and yelling. Actually, late in Margaret Leighton stole the show as his defence counsel during the courtroom scenes, but this highlighted the film's main problem: it featured this killer set-up, but had no notion how to resolve it. Therefore it more or less stops when it ran out of steam. Before that, you could do worse, it wasn't hilarious, but it was fairly engrossing. Music by Malcolm Arnold.

[Network's Blu-ray in their The British Film brand has an image gallery as an extra.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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