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Edward Everett Horton
During the pioneer days in Ohio, a widowed farmer marries an indentured servant in order to have a woman around the house and a mother for his young son but these conveniences eventually turn into real love.
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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 »
Karl, the new chauffeur, is dissatisfied with his situation as a DOWNSTAIRS servant in the Baron's Austrian castle. Completely immoral, he uses sexual blackmail to get what he wants - which is mostly money & power. But when he forces his attentions on Anna the maid, the butler's bride, he sets the stage for a confrontation even he can't handle.
According to cinematic legend, all the talkie MGM films starring John Gilbert were dreadful - the result of a bitter hatred between Gilbert (the highest paid star in Hollywood, with a $1.5 million contract) & studio boss Louis B. Mayer. A determination on Gilbert's part to fulfill the contract, and a campaign instituted by Mayer to destroy Gilbert's career - including spreading the rumor that Gilbert's voice was `high & feminine', culminated in several unwatchable movies.
Not entirely true. The Studio had a huge financial investment in Jack Gilbert and was not going to completely cut its own throat by showcasing him in nothing but dreck. Of the 8 talkies in which he appeared as solo star (1929 - HIS GLORIOUS NIGHT; 1930 - REDEMPTION; WAY FOR A SAILOR; 1931 - GENTLEMAN'S FATE; THE PHANTOM OF PARIS; WEST OF BROADWAY; 1932 - DOWNSTAIRS; 1933 - FAST WORKERS) most were certainly rather ghastly. DOWNSTAIRS, however, was quite decent, and, indeed, fully representative of the material the studio was producing in 1932. It is even based on Gilbert's own original story, and features good atmosphere & fine camerawork.
Gilbert is perfectly cast as the anti-hero of this pre-Production Code film. His smarmy charm is just right in a role which gives him very little sympathy from the audience. Paul Lukas, the fine Hungarian actor, is the real hero as Albert the butler. He effectively underplays his scenes & garners much of the attention from Gilbert.
The rest of the cast offers excellent support: Virginia Bruce as Lukas' innocent wife; Reginald Owen as the oafish Baron; Olga Baclanova as the stunning Baroness, one of Gilbert's victims; Bodil Rosing, most effective as the plump, aging cook infatuated with Gilbert. Hedda Hopper has a tiny role as a Countess who has run into Gilbert before, to her cost.
Movie mavens will recognize Karen Morley, uncredited at the very end, as Gilbert's new employer.
Finally, about The Voice. There was nothing at all strange or unnaturally high about Gilbert's speaking voice. As a matter of fact, it was of medium range and rather cultured & refined. Which was the crux of the problem, of course. While it is possible that no voice could have ever matched the perfect one viewers heard in their minds while watching his strong, virile silent roles, the reality was very different from what they wanted to hear (imagine Robert Montgomery's voice coming out of Clark Gable's mouth.) Gilbert was doomed from his first scene in his debut talkie; his war with Mayer only intensified the agony. He would die in 1936, forgotten by most of his former fans, at the age of only 36.
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