William Wyler’s THE GAY DECEIT stars Frances Dee and Francis Lederer, who, as regular Shadowplayer David Wingrove puts it, looks “quite capable of a gay deceit.”
Wyler’s name is not commonly associated with humour, with the unutterably charming ROMAN HOLIDAY being the only really well-known comedy among his many celebrated films, but he did direct Preston Sturges’s script of THE GOOD FAIRY, probably the best example of Sturges writing for another director outside of Mitchell Leisen’s unbeatable EASY LIVING and REMEMBER THE NIGHT. Plus FRIENDLY PERSUASION has some good stuff with a duck.
But Wyler is not only an incisive director of emotional dramas (and don’t listen to anybody who accuses him of Strained Seriousness or any such alliterative allusion, at least without checking for yourself), he’s a good all-rounder. THE GAY DECEIT is pretty enjoyable from start to finish, although if anything it could probably do with more of a dramatic spine to hang the silliness on. Frances Dee is sweet and appealing and pretty good at physical comedy (nothing knockabout, just a bit of running and faffing around) and Lederer’s light comedy playing is delightful enough to make you almost completely forget that he once played Jack the Ripper.
The real pleasure, though, is in the supporting cast. If the posh hotel setting reminds us of the Hotel Louis in EASY LIVING, Luis Alberini, who played Louis Louis of the Hotel Louis, is on hand to cement the connection. And two actors who later played interchangeable comedy foreigners for Sturges in separate films, here play interchangeable comedy foreigners in the same film: Akim Tamiroff and Lionel Stander.
Best of all is Lennox Pawle (centre), whom I’d never encountered before. Marvellous. He sounds like a duck being strangled at the wrong speed. And that face! Like an unfinished sculpture of a dyspeptic baby carved from an ice cream brick.
Alas, movies had just begun to talk in the later years of this fine comic’s life, so we never got to see him in a Sturges film. What an enjoyable man.