Damsel in Distress

A Damsel in Distress

Director: George Stevens

Cast: Fred Astaire, George Burns, Gracie Allen

     
 

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Fred Astaire's first RKO musical without his longtime partner Ginger Rogers is one of his best from any period -- even though it's obvious that leading lady Joan Fontaine can't dance a step. Written by P. G. Wodehouse, Damsel in Distress casts Astaire as Jerry, an American entertainer appearing in London. Poor Jerry gets sucked into a wager conducted among

Overview

Fred Astaire's first RKO musical without his longtime partner Ginger Rogers is one of his best from any period -- even though it's obvious that leading lady Joan Fontaine can't dance a step. Written by P. G. Wodehouse, Damsel in Distress casts Astaire as Jerry, an American entertainer appearing in London. Poor Jerry gets sucked into a wager conducted among servants of country squire Lord Mashmorton (Montague Love) He is "elected" to rescue his Lordship's daughter Lady Alyce (Joan Fontaine) from an arranged marriage with orchestra leader Reggie (Ray Noble), a likeable chap who steadfastly refuses to play the villain of the piece. Weaving in and out of all this are Jerry's business manager George (George Burns) and his daffy secretary Gracie (Gracie Allen). In addition to including such Gershwin standards as "A Foggy Day" and "Nice Work if You Can Get It," not to mention Fred Astaire's untoppable "drum dance," A Damsel in Distress affords George Burns and Gracie Allen their best-ever screen roles; the team is permitted to join Astaire in the elaborate "round-and-round" production number "Things are Looking Up," as well as a delightful whisk-broom dance (which, it is said, George and Gracie taught to Fred, rather than the other way around). As Lady Alyce's duplicitous butler, Reginald Gardiner enjoys his own comic highlight with an interesting variation on his "musical cop" routine in Born to Dance. As for 19-year-old Joan Fontaine, she's quite lovely and charming, and Astaire does his very best to camouflage her utter lack of terpsichorean ability. Amazingly, A Damsel in Distress lost money at the box office, compelling RKO Radio to play safe by quickly reteaming Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Carefree.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
A Damsel in Distress stars Fred Astaire and therefore is worth watching, but while it's charming and diverting, it's still a bit of a disappointment overall. There are problems with the script -- a few dead spots, some forced humor -- but no more so than in most musicals of the period. Unfortunately, George Stevens' uneven direction, which doesn't create the sense of spontaneity that a lightweight vehicle such as this requires, keeps the film from taking off as much as it needs to. He is not helped by Joan Fontaine, whose nascent dramatic abilities do not compensate for her slender musical and (especially) terpsichorean abilities. Fortunately, Astaire is on hand to make up for his co-star's shortcomings, which he does in spades, especially in his famous "drum dance," an atmospheric "A Foggy Day," a close-harmony "Nice Work if You Can Get It" and a charming " Things Are Looking Up." Fred is helped enormously by George Burns and Gracie Allen, in what may be their best big screen performance. The three have a delightful broom dance, and Gracie sells "Stiff Upper Lip" with her bizarrely unique brand of charm. This trio of chums and the dazzling Gershwin brothers score lift Damsel up quite a few notches, even if it's not enough to make it a classic of the genre.

Product Details

Release Date:
08/05/2011
UPC:
0883316261569
Original Release:
1937
Source:
Warner Archives
Time:
1:40:00
Sales rank:
2,182

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Fred Astaire Jerry Halliday
George Burns George Burns
Gracie Allen Gracie Allen
Joan Fontaine Lady Alyce Marshmorton
Reginald Gardiner Keggs, Butler
Constance Collier Lady Caroline Marshmorton
Ray Noble Reggie
Montagu Love Lord John Marshmorton
Harry Watson Albert
Jan Duggan Miss Ruggles
Mario Berini Gardiner [singing]
Ralph Brooks Actor
Sam Harris Dance Extra
Fred Kelsey Sightseer
W.J. O'Brien Chauffeur
Charles Bennett Carnival Barker
Jack George Madrigal Singer
Mary Gordon Cook
Frank Moran Bobby
Ken Terrell Drunk

Technical Credits
George Stevens Director
Fred Astaire Choreography
Joseph H. August Cinematographer
Victor Baravalle Musical Direction/Supervision
Pandro S. Berman Producer
Harry Berman Editor
Carroll Clark Production Designer
Ira Gershwin Songwriter
George Gershwin Score Composer
S.K. Lauren Screenwriter
Argyle Nelson Asst. Director
Ernest Pagano Screenwriter
Hermes Pan Choreography
Van Nest Polglase Art Director
Darrell Silvera Set Decoration/Design
Vernon Walker Special Effects
P.G. Wodehouse Screenwriter
A. Earl Wolcott Sound/Sound Designer

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