In sixteenth century Italy, the Duke of Florence (Frank Morgan) has decided to hang the notorious Benvenuto Cellini (Fredric March) for murder. But after his wife, the Duchess (Constance Bennett), reminds him that Cellini has failed to finish a set of gold plates for an important upcoming dinner, the Duke agrees that he will instead execute Cellini after the plates are completed. The Duke goes to Cellini’s workshop to inform him of the verdict, and winds up becoming attracted to the girl he finds there, simple model Angela (Fay Wray). Thinking that his wife has gone along to their winter estate, the Duke takes Angela back with him to the summer palace. Meanwhile, the Duchess has in fact remained and, intrigued by the rumors of Cellini, whom she has never seen, arranges a meeting and asks him to fashion a key for her. Soon she finds herself falling for the rakish Cellini, and he for her — but circumstances change when the Duchess suspects Cellini of being unfaithful.
The Affairs of Cellini has both serious moments and comedic elements that blend really well together in creating a film that not only highlights the striking depraved lifestyle of sixteenth century Florence, but makes it unexpectedly amusing to watch, too.
It’s vital to note that throughout history, those in the nobility were often forced into arranged marriages of state, and had affairs on the side. Such promiscuity is the perfect subject for a pre-code!
The Duke and Duchess of Florence are certainly a mismatched pair, obviously only wed for necessity of state. It’s easy to tell who is really in charge, there. The Duchess is brilliant, sharp, and cunning. Constance has such regality and authority about her! The Duke is plain silly, and in real life that would be a travesty, but in film it’s quite hilarious. Frank Morgan plays the part well and has tons of funny lines. In fact, all the dialogue is really clever and is one of the highlights of the picture!
Fredric March is great in the title role -- very handsome, athletic, and confident. Some of my favorite parts of the film are with Cellini and the Duchess together, especially the suspenseful ones where she believes him guilty of infidelity, and the poisoning scene. The ending is somewhat abrupt, but fitting, and could happen only in the pre-code era!
♥ ♥ ♥ ½