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Strictly Dishonorable

Strictly Dishonorable(1951)


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In 1920s New York, noted baritone Augustino "Gus" Caraffa refuses to sing with sour-voiced amateur Marie Donnelly, even though her newspaper publisher husband Harry offers a large donation to the opera. Gus's press agent, Bill Dempsey, wants Gus to reconsider, but he is adamant, angering Harry so much that he starts a campaign of negative publicity. For days, Harry's photographers take pictures of Gus, then alter them to appear highly provocative. When Gus finally retaliates by breaking a photographer's camera, Harry counters by hiring matronly Mrs. Peccatori to work undercover as Gus's maid. Bill gets a tip that Harry has a "dame" working for him and assumes that Isabelle Perry, a Mississippi-born music student just hired as a spear carrier in the opera Il ritorno di C├ęsare , is the plant. During the performance, the starstruck Isabelle is so entranced with Gus's aria that she causes an accident which results in the entire proscenium being destroyed. After Isabelle is fired, her staid boyfriend, Henry Greene, wants her to return with him to New Jersey, but she insists on apologizing to Gus. They drive to the speakeasy over which Gus lives, and when he notices how pretty she is, he is happy to talk with her. Bill secretly tells Gus that she is Harry's spy and advises him to turn on his charm. Gus is equally charmed by Isabelle, who has been a long-time fan. While Gus and Isabelle are dancing, she turns her ankle. When Henry comes back from moving his car, he sees Gus rubbing her calf and assumes the worst, prompting Isabelle to break their engagement. As she now has no place to stay, Gus suggests that she spend the night on his couch. Her innocent charm convinces Gus that she is not Harry's "plant," but Bill is not sure and devises a plan to turn the tables on Harry. Just as Isabelle and Gus are exchanging a kiss, a photographer hired by Bill bursts in and takes their picture, which Bill plans to run in a rival paper reporting that Isabelle had entrapped Gus. After the photographer leaves, the speakeasy's maitre d' comes in, dragging Mrs. Peccatori, whom he has found snooping. She confesses everything, but it is too late, as Bill's photographer has been jumped by Harry's men, who plan to run the incriminating photo in his paper. To keep the photo from causing further scandal, Bill suggests that Gus and Isabelle get married, thus rendering the photo innocuous. Gus does not want to use Isabelle and warns that theirs cannot be a real marriage, but she is in love with him and eagerly agrees. The ploy infuriates Harry, who retaliates by encouraging Gus's sometimes flame, Countess Lili Szadvany, to sue for breach of promise. Lili has kept Gus's love letters and agrees to serialize her story in the paper for a large sum of money. That same day, Gus and Isabelle pay a visit to his mother to assuage her anger over his not following the Italian tradition of obtaining her permission to marry. Mama soon accepts the sweet-natured Isabelle, even though she is young, skinny and not Italian. While still at Mama's, Gus gets a call from Bill telling him about the lawsuit and asking him to talk to Lili. She and her lawyer insist that Gus sign undated annulment papers for her to drop the suit. Bill, who now realizes that Isabelle is a nice girl, suggests that Gus wait several weeks to break the news to her, and in the interim move into another apartment. Isabelle agrees to separate apartments, then runs to Mama, who says that it must be Lili's fault and determines to help the romance along by taking Isabelle shopping for glamorous clothes and teaching her to cook. When Bill repeatedly thwarts her efforts, Mama suggests that Isabelle pretend to go away for a while. Instead of leaving New York, she goes to a romantic movie, unaware that a lonely Gus is in the same theater. After the movie ends, the pair find each other when his powerful voice overwhelms the audience sing along, and they leave arm in arm. The next morning, a happy Isabelle calls Mama to report her success. Unknown to Isabelle, Gus has gone to Lili's to tell her that he loves Isabelle and no longer cares about the lawsuit. Lili pretends to be happy for him and promises to bring his letters to the opera house that afternoon, then quickly calls her lawyer. The lawyer takes the annulment papers to Isabelle and gives her money, claiming it is from Gus. Because the papers have just been dated, Isabelle assumes that Gus wants the annulment and signs them. When Mama drops by, Isabelle sadly tells her what has happened and leaves for the train station. Mama and her brother Nito then rush to the opera house, where Gus is performing Faust . Nito dons a costume to go onstage and tell Gus what has happened. After finishing the number, Gus stops the music, apologetically explaining his situation, then leaves. When Lili goes backstage to confront Gus, Mama grabs her and gets the letters back. Gus arrives at Grand Central station just in time to catch Isabelle and take her on the next train to Niagara Falls.