This week’s mystery movie has been the 1938 Twentieth Century-Fox picture “The Baroness and the Butler,” with William Powell, Annabella (in her American screen debut), Helen Westley, Henry Stephenson, Joseph Schildkraut, J. Edward Bromberg, Nigel Bruce and Lynn Bari. The movie was directed by Walter Lang, with a screenplay by Sam Hellman, Lamar Trotti and Kathryn Scola from a play by Ladislaus Bus-Fekete (often Bush-Fekete), “The Lady Has a Heart.”
“The Baroness and the Butler” is available on DVD from Amazon for $18.39.
The Bus-Fekete comedy, translated from Hungarian, played on Broadway for 91 performances from September to December 1937 and featured Elissa Landi and Vincent Price (yes, that Vincent Price). Brooks Atkinson wrote in the New York Times (Sept. 27, 1937): “Lots of turbid water has flowed under the bridges since plays like ‘The Lady Has a Heart’ were anything but soporific.” (Ephemera from the play is listed on EBay).
Los Angeles Times film writer Philip K. Scheuer visited Powell in his dressing room between takes on “The Baroness and the Butler” and wrote (Dec. 24, 1937) that Powell preferred the film over his last picture, “Double Wedding.” “If there are many more like it,” Powell said, “it probably will be the last — as opposed to -latest.'” However much he disliked “Double Wedding,” it was a moneymaker for MGM, leading Powell to quip: “Right or wrong — the box office!”
The film introduced French movie star Annabella in “her first American picture,” but Hedda Hopper said of her performance: (Los Angeles Times, Feb. 16, 1938) “her French accent got in the way. And she’s no better than half a dozen girls right here in Hollywood.”
The review by Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times (Feb. 19, 1938) dismissed “The Baroness and the Butler” as “a feeble exercise for William Powell’s drollery, none at all for Annabella’s volatile charm. ”
Nugent said: “Just why Twentieth Century-Fox should have taken the French actress out of her gamine metier to play a mock-heroic Hungarian noblewoman is something to ponder over in an odd moment.”
“The Baroness and the Butler” opened in Los Angeles on Feb. 23, 1938, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and Loew’s State Theatre in a double bill with “Fifty-Second Street.”
Scheuer’s review in The Times (Feb. 24, 1938) focused on “Fifty-Second Street” and dismissed “The Baroness and the Butler” as having a plot that soon wears thin. He says: “Walter Lang has directed this essentially photographed play (by Bus-Fekete) as though every line of dialogue were a priceless epigram — a misguided tendency which he may have picked up from Ernst Lubitsch. The result is excessively, even belligerently, polite, but never very stimulating.”
As for Annabella, Scheuer says that she “keys her performance to one note — injured hauteur — and is not easy to understand.”
For Monday, we have a mystery gent.
Update: This is Alexander Pollard.
And for Tuesday, a mystery woman.
Update: This is Helen Westley.
This was too amusing not to share. Apparently Google image search doesn’t work quite as well with black and white photos.
And for Wednesday, we have a mystery gent.
Update: This is Alphonse Ethier.
Brain trust roll call: Dewey Webb (Tuesday’s mystery woman), Mike Hawks (Tuesday’s mystery woman), Jenny M (mystery movie and Tuesday’s mystery woman), Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and mystery guests), LC (mystery movie and mystery guests), Lee Ann, Megan and Thom (Tuesday’s mystery woman) and Bob Hansen (Tuesday’s mystery woman).
For Thursday, we have a mystery woman trying to disguise herself.
Update: This is Annabella.
Brain Trust roll call Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s mystery gent), Mike Hawks (mystery movie), Dan Nather (Tuesday’s mystery woman), Barbara Klein (mystery movie and Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s mystery guests), Megan, Lee Ann and Thom (mystery movie and Wednesday’s mystery gent) and Mary Mallory (Tuesday’s mystery woman).
And for Friday, we have a mystery dog and two non-mysterious companions.
Update: This is William Powell and Henry Stephenson.
Brain Trust roll call: Barbara Klein (Thursday’s mystery woman), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery woman), Mike Hawks (Wednesday’s and Thursday’s mystery guests), Jenny M (Thursday’s mystery guest), Anne Papineau (mystery movie and Tuesday’s and Thursday’s mystery guests) and Dewey Webb (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guest).