Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… A Damsel In Distress (1937)

Here we are again, with another Fred Astaire-centric movie, the 1937 musical A Damsel In Distress, also starring George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Joan Fontaine!

The plot of this movie mainly concerns Lady Alyce Marshmorton (Joan Fontaine), who is now old enough to marry.  The staff at her castle are all betting on who she will marry, with the two frontrunners being Reggie, Alyce’s aunt’s stepson and “Mr. X,” an American Alyce had fallen in love with.  Now Alyce escapes to London to meet him, but, followed by her butler, she gets into a cab with Jerry Halliday, an American dancer (Fred Astaire).  One of the other members of the staff sees this, and believes Jerry to be Mr. X, and thus decides to help encourage the romance so that he can win the bet.  Now Jerry likes Alyce, and, unaware of the real Mr. X, tries to romance her.  At first, she believes him to be a friend, until he kisses her in the tunnel of love at a carnival, and she promptly slaps him.  After a while, she ends up falling for him, too.

The fun of this movie is the music by George and Ira Gerswhin.  Now, this is one of George’s final projects, as he died before the movie was released.  The movie includes (but is not limited to), songs such as “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” “Put Me To The Test,” “Stiff Upper Lip,” “Things Are Looking Up,” “A Foggy Day” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

“I Can’t Be Bothered Now” is a nice, short solo dance for Fred.  He ends up doing a dance on a street for a busker, as he tries to evade the policeman in London, after getting into a fight with the butler.  Of course, this all happens near the beginning of the movie.

“Put Me To The Test” is an instrumental piece of music that gives Fred, George and Gracie a chance to dance together.  Apparently, the dance came about as a result of George and Gracie’s audition for the movie.  They put together a dance involving whisk brooms, and when Fred saw it, he liked it enough that he wanted to join in on the fun!

The song “Stiff Upper Lip” is otherwise known as the “funhouse dance” with this movie.  Fred, George and Gracie all dance their way through a carnival, with various mirrors and other assorted things.  It was this dance that resulted in this movie winning the Oscar for “Best Dance Direction.”  Another tidbit is that one section of the routine, that mainly features Fred and Gracie, borrowed dance steps from some of what Fred had done on stage with his sister, Adele.

The song “Things Are Looking Up” is the main romantic routine, pairing Fred and Joan Fontaine.  The music is what I enjoy with this song, although the dancing is only so-so, mainly because actress Joan Fontaine was decidedly NOT a dancer.  It is nice to see her try (as opposed to the more modern way of using doubles), and I enjoy the old-fashioned way of trying to hide her ability (or lack thereof) through the camera coming behind trees or focusing on Fred.

“Nice Work If You Can Get It” is a fun song.  What is most enjoyable is when Fred reprises the song at the end of the movie.  He proves that he can dance AND play the drums at the same time (and quite well, at that)!

I very, very highly recommend this movie.  For me, watching Fred dance is ALWAYS fun, and being joined by both George and Gracie makes it better.  Of all the movies I have seen for George and Gracie, I feel like they are at their best in this movie (and I certainly remember some of their jokes with fondness).  The plot may be a little silly, but that is part of the fun with some of these older musicals, and I do enjoy this one.

The movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #6 in Top 11 Movies Watched in 2018

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Swing Time (1936)Fred AstaireCarefree (1938)

We’re Not Dressing (1934) – George Burns/Gracie Allen (screen team) – College Swing (1938)

Joan Fontaine – The Emperor Waltz (1948)

Stand-In (1937) – Jack Carson – Vivacious Lady (1938)

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