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At the wedding of Albert and Anna, Karl, the new chauffeur, arrives. Albert is the head butler, second generation to the Baron. Karl soon seems out of place as a servant, and Albert tells him so. But Karl is a cad. Whenever he gets the chance, he will try to seduce Anna, who is not wise in the ways of the world. He lies without question if it is to his advantage and charms money out of Sophie, the old cook. He disrupts the household and then blackmails the Baroness to keep from being sacked. Written by
Tony Fontana <email@example.com>
John Gilbert wanted to do this movie so badly he sold the story to MGM for $1.00. Ads for the movie proclaimed "starring Mr. and Mrs. John Gilbert" since the couple was married shortly after the production completed filming. See more »
Downstairs, written by star John Gilbert, finds him cast way against type as a George Sanders like cad who is hired by as a chauffeur by Paul Lukas the butler and major domo on Reginald Owen's estate. Gilbert works his considerable charm on all of the women in the estate including Lukas's new bride Virginia Bruce, cook Bodil Rosing, and the mistress of the house herself, Olga Baclanova.
There are many reasons given why John Gilbert's career tanked when sound came in, but on the silent screen he was a hero and great lover. Like Tyrone Power in the next generation who gave a great performance in Nightmare Alley that the public stayed away in droves from, the public wouldn't accept Gilbert as a total amoral louse. I'm also guessing the Austrian setting of the story didn't encourage anyone in Depression America to plunk down their nickel to see Downstairs.
That's a pity because Gilbert gives a powerful performance as the chauffeur. During the film he and Virginia Bruce married and were husband and wife when it was released.
By that time MGM and its head Louis B. Mayer were busy developing the new stars of sound like Clark Gable and Robert Montgomery. There was no place for Gilbert any more there. It would take Greta Garbo's intervention to get him cast the following year in Queen Christina.
The rest of the cast admirably supports Gilbert. The climax is definitely one where Gilbert's hero image is shattered by Paul Lukas. Too bad the public wouldn't buy it.
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