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Constant Husband, The (1954)


Main image of Constant Husband, The (1954)
35mm, colour, 88 mins
Directed bySidney Gilliat
Production CompanyLondon Film Productions
ProducersSidney Gilliat, Frank Launder
Screenplay bySidney Gilliat, Val Valentine
PhotographyTed Scaife
MusicMalcolm Arnold

Cast: Rex Harrison (the patient); Margaret Leighton (Miss Chesterman); Kay Kendall (Monica Hendricks); Cecil Parker (Llewellyn); Nicols Maurey (Lola Sopranelli); George Cole (Luigi Sopranelli); Raymond Huntley (J.F.Hassett); Michael Hordern (judge)

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A man suffering from memory loss is horrified to discover he is a serial bigamist.

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Although The Constant Husband lacks the ambition and mass appeal of Launder and Gilliat's best-known work, this entertaining chapter in their filmography is charming, witty and revealing in its gender politics. On first viewing, the film appears to be a light parable about redemption. It traces the development of Rex Harrison's Mr X (we are never sure of the patient's name) through his self-discovery and seems to share the horror he experiences as he learns more about his former deceptions and the growing list of wives. The climax of the third act - with Harrison volunteering to go to prison for his bigamy - forms a natural conclusion to the character's newly found respect for marriage, women and himself. However, beneath the amusing story and light-hearted comedy, the narrative conspires to undermine the liberal portrayal of the battle of the sexes.

Harrison himself contributes to this contradiction. Playing to type, and resurrecting one of his biggest successes as Vivian Kenway in The Rake's Progress (d. Gilliat, 1945), he exudes charisma. He plays every misdemeanour with an easy grace, making any blame very difficult for the characters around him especially as his amnesia affords him the chance to distance himself from his former actions. Yet when he eventually volunteers to go to prison, it is actually to escape the wives he has accumulated, turning his honourable gesture into an extension of his former ways of abandonment.

Despite the film's depiction of strong women, be it Margaret Leighton's assertive lawyer or Kay Kendall's understanding photographer, it rests on the ultimate joke that Harrison is irresistible. In the last scene, Kendall joins the gaggle of women fighting for Harrison and Leighton has a questionable victory with her final entrapment - Harrison is, after all, escaping into the arms of yet another new woman. This final moment completely betrays all attempts to create equality between Harrison and his wives. The film appears to laugh at Harrison's weaknesses, but the real butts of the joke are the women he's misled.

Harrison was trying to reverse a bad reputation earned from his link to the suicide of Hollywood blonde Carole Landis in 1948. His career awash in America, he had been working in Britain ever since and saw in The Constant Husband, with its theme of redemption, a chance to distance himself from his dubious past. Ironically, during the shooting, he started an adulterous affair with Kendall.

Dylan Cave

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Video Clips
1. Who the devil are you? (4:11)
2. Monica and Charles (4:18)
3. The trunk (1:28)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Arnold, Sir Malcolm (1921-2006)
Cole, George (1925-)
Gilliat, Sidney (1908-1994)
Harrison, Rex (1908-1990)
Hordern, Sir Michael (1911-1995)
Kendall, Kay (1927-1959)
Launder, Frank (1906-1997)
Parker, Cecil (1897-1971)