Saturday, September 22, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Girl Downstairs (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Franchot Tone and Franciska Gaal star in the romantic comedy THE GIRL DOWNSTAIRS (1938), just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Wealthy Paul Wagner (Tone) is a playboy who fancies himself in love with Rosalind Brown (Rita Johnson). Rosalind's father (Walter Connolly) strongly disapproves of Paul and bans him from the house, so Paul devises plan to get in anyway: Disguised as his own chauffeur, he courts the Browns' scullery maid Katarina (Gaal), which enables him to come and go from the Brown mansion, sneaking into the house to see Rosalind via the back stairs.

Katarina quickly falls for Paul, who eventually tries to disentangle himself from Katarina by writing her a letter confessing and apologizing for his bad behavior -- only to later learn she can't read and has no idea what the letter said. Right about that point Paul also starts to realize he's falling for Katarina...only to have Rosalind's father cave in and consent to their engagement. Now what?!

Tone is delightful as Paul, overcoming viewer dismay with Paul's poor choices by dint of his charm, and he's supported by wonderful character actors including Reginald Gardiner, Franklin Pangborn, Reginald Owen, Robert Coote, and Barnett Parker. The story concept allows for some funny sequences, with Paul's long-suffering chauffeur (Coote) constantly handing his uniform over to Paul, and Paul's old friend (Owen) being mistaken by Katarina for Paul.

It's a cute film with a terrific cast, the only fly in the ointment being a disappointing leading lady. Gaal appeared in DeMille's THE BUCCANEER (1938) the same year, and I didn't particularly care for her in either film. Gaal plays "cute" without actually being cute, and it doesn't help that Katarina is written as a rather unintelligent character, doing things like shouting into a phone to be heard because the person on the other end is so far away.

Although it's fun to go along with the fairy tale, I did find myself wondering how much Paul and Katarina would have in common long term, given her dimwitted portrayal. That said, I quite enjoyed the movie, other than simply wishing for another actress opposite Tone, who could retain Katarina's warm heart but not portray her in such a dense fashion. (And what was with the Pippi Longstocking style braids standing straight out from her head?!) The movie works despite Gaal, rather than because of her presence, and I found it worthwhile checking out this lesser-known comedic romance.

THE GIRL DOWNSTAIRS was directed by Norman Taurog. It was filmed in black and white by Clyde DeVinna. The running time is 77 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD has a good picture and sound. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Net - "It's a Wonderful Movie" said...

Thanks so much for this review, Laura! Sounds like a fun, classic rom-com! Love those! :)

Blessings, Net

9:31 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It was a fun film, Net, despite my reservations. My husband walked in late and when he saw several character actors all lined up in one scene he exclaimed "Wow!" It has a lot going for it. If you get a chance to see it I'd love to know what you think.

Best wishes,

10:52 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older