THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING
(director/producer: Ernst Lubitsch; screenwriters: Donald Ogden Stewart/Walter Reisch/from the play Divorçons by Emile DeNajac and Victorien Sardou; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: William Shea; music: Werner Richard Heymann; cast: Merle Oberon (Jill Baker), Melvyn Douglas (Larry Baker), Burgess Meredith (Alexander Sebastian), Eve Arden (Sally Aikens), Alan Mowbray (Dr. Vengard), Harry Davenport (Attorney Jones), Sig Rumann (Mr. Kafka), Olive Blakeney (Margie); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; United Artists; 1941)
“More silly than amusing.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Ernst Lubitsch’s sophisticated comedy of manners is more silly than amusing. It’s set on ritzy Park Avenue in Manhattan where it lampoons the bourgeois rich with their marital infidelity problems. “That Uncertain Feeling” is a remake of the silent film “Kiss Me Again”, which was also directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It’s based on the play Divorçons byEmile DeNajac and Victorien Sardou.
Jill Baker (Merle Oberon), a supposedly happily married 24-year-old woman of six years to workaholic insurance salesman Larry Baker (Melvyn Douglas), visits Freudian psychoanalyst Dr. Vengard (Alan Mowbray) for her recently developed hiccups and insomnia, after taking the advice of a socialite woman friend. The shrink suggests her hiccups and insomnia are due to marital problems. In the shrink’s waiting room she meets eccentric concert pianist Alexander Sebastian (Burgess Meredith) and falls in love with the shrink’s star patient. She’s also impressed that he’s against everything and is even more neurotic than she is and on top of that is a world-class pianist. He takes her to an art gallery and shows her an abstract painting (it looks like the Dali “folded over clock” painting) that he says is a portrait of him, and she hangs a reproduction of that portrait on her bedroom wall.
At a dinner party to woo a Hungarian family-run business concern for Larry, Jill invites Sebastian to play some Beethoven. After that serenade Sebastian ends up living with Jill in Larry’s luxurious pad. To fight back, Larry’s business lawyer Jones (Harry Davenport) offers moral support and has his secretary Sally (Eve Arden) give him advice from a woman’s point of view. The best she comes up with is to win his wife over with a mink. Larry only replies that he already gave her a mink coat, and tells Jones that he plans to take the battle to the next level and fight like a modern sophisticated man. But he reverts back to the old-fashioned Larry and attacks Sebastian.
After knocking the pacifist Sebastian cold, Larry generously agrees to the divorce even though he’s still madly in love with his wife. It soon becomes apparent, after a few misunderstandings that she is also in love with him and his strategy to sell himself as if he were an insurance policy is beginning to work. The story is bubbly and lighthearted and frothy, with the best role reserved for Meredith’s wacko comic stint (patterned on Oscar Levant).
The couple will get back together thanks to some of the Lubitsch touches finally taking hold. But first Larry tries to figure out the softest way for Jill to file for divorce on the grounds of cruelty (the film’s most hilarious scenes), as he never gives up trying to sell himself to her. This is one Lubitsch film that failed to jell, as others have said the title might refer to Lubitsch’s direction. The entertainment offered is of the slightest kind and the screwball Lubitsch comedy antics never light up the screen. The film is not helped by the performance of the 30-year-old Merle Oberon, who is not awful but never quite convinces us that she’s a nut case or anything but a pampered socialite. She seems to be laboring to get laughs, which don’t come easily. Only Meredith seemed at home with this urbane extramarital romp for the upper-crusts, an all too familiar battle of the sexes comedy that has been done better in many other films.
REVIEWED ON 6/1/2004 GRADE: C+