A Damsel in Distress

This article is about the 1937 musical film. For the novel by P. G. Wodehouse it is based on, see A Damsel in Distress (novel). For other uses, see Damsel in Distress (disambiguation).
A Damsel in Distress

A Damsel in Distress film poster
Directed by George Stevens
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Written by
Based on A Damsel in Distress
1919 novel
by P. G. Wodehouse
Music by
Cinematography Joseph H. August
Edited by Henry Berman
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release dates
  • November 19, 1937 (1937-11-19)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,035,000[1]
Box office $1,465,000[1]

A Damsel in Distress is a 1937 English-themed Hollywood musical comedy film starring Fred Astaire, Joan Fontaine, George Burns, and Gracie Allen. With a screenplay by P. G. Wodehouse, loosely based on his novel of the same name, music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, it is directed by George Stevens. It is the second (and last) Astaire musical directed by Stevens; the first was Swing Time.


Everyone on staff at Tottney Castle knows that the lovely Lady Alyce Marshmorton (Joan Fontaine) must marry soon, so a wager is proposed as to the identity of the lucky man. With all the likely candidates already claimed, young footman Albert (Harry Watson) places a bet on a "Mr. X," someone totally out of the blue.

Lady Alyce secretly has a romantic interest in an American no one from her family has yet met. She leaves the castle one day to venture into London, where by chance she encounters Jerry Halliday (Fred Astaire). He is an American entertainer, accompanied by press agent George (George Burns) and secretary Gracie (Gracie Allen), but he is not well enough known to be recognized by Lady Alyce.

Jerry is incorrectly led to believe that he is the American that Lady Alyce is in love with. He goes to the castle, encouraged by Albert but discouraged by Keggs (Reginald Gardiner), a scheming butler whose money is on another beau. The closest Jerry can get to Lady Alyce is a castle tour, at least until Albert can sneak him upstairs.

False impressions abound, as Jerry also fails to recognize Lady Alyce's father (Montagu Love), the lord of the manor. He is slapped in the face in a Tunnel of Love, misunderstanding the young lady's intentions entirely. In the end, however, he and Lady Alyce do find romance.



The film was made at George Gershwin's instigation, an enthusiasm that Wodehouse mischievously attributed[2] to the fact that his novel was about a successful American songwriter named George Bevan. Gershwin died of a brain tumor while the film was in production. The picture was released four months after his death.

For this, the first Astaire RKO film not to feature Ginger Rogers, the nineteen-year-old Fontaine was chosen, with Burns and Allen drafted in to provide the comedy. It soon emerged that Fontaine couldn't dance, but Stevens persuaded Astaire not to replace her with Ruby Keeler.[3] The film was the first Astaire picture to lose money, costing $1,035,000 to produce and losing $65,000.[1][2]

The "Stiff Upper Lip" routine garnered co-choreographer Hermes Pan the 1937 Academy Award for Best Dance Direction. Carroll Clark was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction

Orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett and conductor Victor Baravalle had previously worked together on the original stage production of Show Boat, as well as the 1936 film version. They would work together twice more, on the Astaire-Rogers films Carefree (1938) and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), before Baravalle's sudden death in 1939.


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Key songs and dance routines

The choreography explores dancing around, past, and through obstacles, and in confined spaces.

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 3 Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p57
  2. 1 2 3 Mueller, John (1986). Astaire Dancing - The Musical Films. London: Hamish Hamilton. pp. 126–137. ISBN 0-241-11749-6.
  3. Thomas, Bob (1985). Astaire, the Man, the Dancer. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 148. ISBN 0-297-78402-1.
  4. "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-13.
  5. Burns, George. Gracie: A Love Story. G.P Putnam and Sons. pp. 204–206.

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/1/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.