Sunday, May 13, 2007

THE BARONESS AND THE BUTLER (1938)

An attempt at a frothy class-conscious romantic comedy that doesn’t quite gel. William Powell (wonderful as usual) is the indispensable butler to a Hungarian count (Henry Stephenson) who is also Prime Minister. Unbeknownst to the family, Powell is running for a seat in Parliament as a member of the Social Progressives, who are directly opposed to Stephenson's policies. It isn't until Powell's unexpected win is announced on the radio that the family finds out what happening. Stephenson actually seems pleased, especially when he finds out that Powell wants to stay on as butler, but the rest of the family, including the wife (Helen Westley) and daughter (Annabella, just Annabella) aren't so happy. Powell quickly becomes a popular opposition figure, and the movie's best scene occurs during one of his fiery speeches in Parliament, during which Annabella, in a fit of anger, throws her purse at him, sparking a free-for-all throwing match. Soon Stephenson loses a vote of confidence and has to give up his office, which doesn’t bother him nearly as much as the prospect of losing Powell as a butler. Meanwhile, Powell and Annabella fall in love, although she already has a passive and effete husband (Joseph Schildkraut, looking exactly like Jack Cassidy) and an older admirer (the blustery Nigel Bruce). Despite the threat of blackmail, there is, of course, a happy, if somewhat abrupt ending. Annabella is a French actress who only made a handful of movies in America; she's fine here, though her thick accent is a little disconcerting, given that all the other Hungarian characters speak in American or English accents. Lynn Bari has a small role as a maid. [FMC]

1 comment:

Sue said...

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