15 September 2010

20 Scripts in 30 Days: Number 8 Holy Matrimony by Nunnally Johnson

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I chose this script because I needed something a little lighter after The Hours, and because I haven't read a comedy script yet. This screenplay is in an anthology called Best American Screenplays 2. It was the only film I hadn't heard of, so that was another factor.
It was very charming, and, honestly, I laughed out loud a few times as I read it.
The set up works like this: in 1905, a famous British artist is called back to London to receive a knighthood. The problem is, the artist -- Farll -- is pathologically shy and hates publicity. But, his King calls, and he must go. Once in London, his valet dies. On impulse, Farll exchanges his identity for that of his manservant, Leek. 
Farll/Leek finds domestic bliss in the arms and at the hearth of Alice Chalice, an efficient and shrewd woman in her 40s, whom he marries.
Complications ensue. 
It's very funny, take my word, starting from the reversal of the tortured artist stereotype. Here, the talented artist just wants a comfortable chair, a pipe, his paper, a stroll in the morning and the cleanliness of a well-run household. Bourgeois bliss. Farll, with Alice at his side, manages to surmount the difficulties, but it's not easy and Johnson exploits the twists with economy.
In that none of the scenes involve farts, puking, semen, slapstick or any of the other staples of modern comedies, it's perhaps a bit dated. One of the plot points, involving moles, seemed drawn out. Otherwise, the script was streamlined, delivering the most fun per minute, skillfully setting situations up and then paying them off with flair and imagination.
It was fun, entertaining, and a fine model for precision and craft.

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