|Index||10 reviews in total|
To introduce French film star Annabella to American audiences, 20th
Century Fox got a European type product as a fitting vehicle for her.
And to play the butler who goes to Parliament, Darryl Zanuck obtained
the services of William Powell from MGM.
Like that other favorite butler role that Powell essayed in My Man Godfrey, Powell is a butler with a social conscience, a fact he keeps hidden from his employers Henry Stephenson, Helen Westley and their daughter Annabella. How he kept secret the fact that his left wing party has nominated him for a seat in the Hungarian Parliament is beyond me. Nevertheless on election eve the family learns that Stephenson will be returned as Prime Minister and Powell will be occupying a seat on the back bench.
The Baroness And The Butler is the kind of film that would have been made in any number of European countries, a delightful bit of Frou-Frou that definitely did not have any relation to Hungary in 1938 with Admiral Miklos Horthy running things as a fascist learning military dictator. Those parliamentary elections have about as much relevance as those that were still going on in Nazi Germany where Reichstag elections were dutifully held with only one party being allowed to participate.
Still Powell and Annabella are nothing less than charming and capable players and they pull this film through and you can actually enjoy it if you'll completely suspend disbelief. Of course Powell and Annabella are in love, but she's unhappily married to a philandering Joseph Schildkraut. And Schildkraut like Captain O'Shea in Ireland is going to make the scandal make his career. As usual Schildkraut is letter perfect playing the part of an unscrupulous schemer, characteristics he patented at the height of his career.
If you're a fan of the stars you'll enjoy The Baroness And The Butler.
"The Baroness and the Butler" is a 1938 film starring William Powell
and the French star signed by 20th Century Fox, Annabella, who got the
big star buildup from Fox. Little did Darryl F. Zanuck know that she
was more interested in matters of the heart than career. When she met
and fell in love with Tyrone Power on her next film, "Suez," Zanuck
tried to get rid of her by offering her films in Europe. She refused to
leave Power (and who could blame her) and the two married, becoming the
Brangelina of their era. Zanuck blacklisted her, and there went the
star buildup and the big film career.
This is a charming film set in Hungary, about a butler, Johann Porok (Powell) who works for the Prime Minister (Henry Stephenson). The prime minister and his family, particularly his daughter Katrina (Annabella) are shocked when Johann is elected to Parliament - by the opposition party. What's more, he wants to stay on as butler. Meanwhile, Katrina's philandering husband (Josef Schildkraut) has a few political ambitions of his own.
Powell does a smooth job in this film as the elegant butler who is known for his brilliant speeches in Parliament. Stephenson is great as his amused boss, and Schildkraut, who played so many slimeballs, is terrific as usual. Annabella was a wonderful actress, and when her film career took a nosedive thanks to Zanuck, she and Power did radio shows together. Annabella also had a great success on Broadway, did "Liliom" with her husband in Westport Connecticut, and worked tirelessly for the war effort before returning to France when she and Power divorced.
"The Baroness and the Butler" isn't a great film, but it has good performances and a breeziness about it. Enjoyable if predictable.
A charming movie, in particular for those whose film tastes are simple, requiring clean, wholesome entertainment, certainly something rare on the screen in the 21st Century. Powell was Powell, articulate, debonair, and likable. But this was my first view of Annabella; what a lovely creature; more accurately, stunningly beautiful, at least to me. The cast did well depicting the almost unbelievable etiquette that those of us born in or after WW II just do not understand. I guess this was the objective in the simplistic plots of the time--to bring only a sense of peace and pleasure to audiences in a time (WW II) when such peace and pleasures were thought to probably never exist again. I cannot find a lot of information on Annabella, but she apparently had a long and distinguished film career. Too bad I didn't know about her in my youth. The film is certainly another 'feather in the hat' of a time in films that many of us remember and enjoyed.
An amusing little story that probably worked better on the stage and
appear to have been much of a challenge for any of the cast. Powell fans
will enjoy it nonetheless and Anabella is quite stunning, despite her
accent. More of Nigel Bruce in comedy relief might have helped the film
Although 20th Century Fox touted this as a debut film for French star Anabella, her filmography includes two earlier American films for the same studio. A note on the Fox Movie Channel stated that production on The Baroness and the Butler was delayed while Powell mourned for Jean Harlow, who was engaged to him at the time of her death.
This is a most delightful movie in every sense. And one that deserves
to be known far better than it is. The story of a conscientious butler
who works for the Prime Minister of his country, Hungry, but, unknown
to his employer, has political aspirations of his own.
This is a wonderfully witty script that never flags. And such a fine cast. William Powell is irrepressible as ever as the caring butler who however isn't afraid to speak his mind in parliament when leading his party in opposition to his employer played by Henry Stevenson, whose wry amusement when Powell's character criticises him in front of everybody in Parliament is hilarious.
But the real revelation here is Annabella, who is simply sparkling as the Baroness, who is also the Prime Minister's daughter. Not only is she very beautiful but also a fine actress. Annabella is so vibrant and expressive in this part that she is just a joy to watch in every scene she plays, especially in those with Powell. They had great chemistry. And it would have been nice to see more of them together.
It seems like Zanuck tried to wreck Annabella's career when she became involved with Tyrone Power. What a sad mistake on Zanuck's part as one can clearly see from this movie that Annabella had a style and panache that would surely have made her a great star. This movie is excellent entertainment and well worth seeing.
It is rare that I come upon a classic film I like this much. Comedy, drama, a charming story, all well produced and satisfying. I am not a fan of screwball comedies or slapstick, and a lot of times that's what people think of when they think of classic comedy, which is a shame. Much of the comedy in this film could be used today. William Powell is brilliant as ever. Annabella is stunning. Henry Stephenson is charming. He reminds me of a friendly C. Aubrey Smith. And they were in fact cast together in Little Lord Fountleroy (which, if you haven't seen, is an excellent forgotten classic). I can't recommend this film highly enough. Someone has uploaded it to youtube recently, which is where I watched it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Regarding a previous review concerning Joseph Schildkraut as a schemer.
This film came out in 1938, the year before Schildkraut was the winner
of the best supporting actor award for the Oscar-winning "The Life of
Emile Zola." He played Dreyfus in that film and he was anything but a
schemer. Ditto 22 years later when he played the memorable father in
"The Diary of Anne Frank."
This picture is comical in nature. It takes place in Hungary and we hear the Blue Danube Waltz played at the beginning. Why? Hungary was part of Austria-Hungary until the end of World War 1.
Now that our history lesson is finished, let's get on to the film. It's filled with political satire. William Powell, who made this film in an attempt to get back to work several months later following Jean Harlow's untimely death, plays a butler who is elected to the Hungarian Parliament for the opposing party of the Prime Minister he works for.
Annabella is the married daughter of the P.M. and the two fall in love. Husband Joseph Schildkraut finds out and tries to use this affair to create for himself an important governmental position so that he will not say anything, quietly divorce Annabella and avoid scandal.
Politics is a nasty business. This picture is silly, it could have used the nastiness. Schildkraut could provide fireworks in previous films such as "Marie Antoinette." He doesn't do that here and the film suffers for it.
Henry Stephenson is good as the Prime Minister. He is the definition of the old politician staying in office by saying little. As his wife, Helen Westley is comical.
William Powell was always suave and charming. He starred in numerous
fine and well-known movies. I have a fondness for "I Love You Again"
and surely everyone is fond of the Thing Man series.
Here he is challenged by a very peculiar mix in his costars. Annabella's French accent is a little hard to penetrate and strangely not very appealing (to me.) She's pretty, though those board shoulders and muscular arms should not have been showcased in sleeveless gowns. And why is this woman with a French accent Hungarian? And if she is Hungarian, why are her parents an American (Helen Westley) and a Brit? (Her father is played with great charm by Henry Stephenson.) The plot is intriguing -- potentially. Powell is the family butler. Yet he runs for office in opposition to his (slightly improbably approving) master. I didn't notice the opening credits and thought it must be based on a Molnar play. It's not.
The movie is easy to watch. It's far from the worst of its romantic comedy ilk in the 1930s. But it's far from good, as well.
The Baroness and the Butler" is a film set in Hungary. However, the
accents by the various actors are confusing to say the least! None of
the cast was Hungarian and most of the actors sounded like
Americans--with the exception of Joseph Schildkraut (an Austrian) and
Annabella (A Frenchwoman, though her accent is bizarre and difficult to
understand). I really wish the film was close captioned...it needed it!
I also wish the director had re-shot many of Annabella's scenes as she
needed to be clearer and easier to understand. She might have been a
lovely person in real life--but she was a terrible actress in English
The story is utterly ridiculous--so just be prepared to suspend disbelief and watch. The story is set in the home of the Baron (who is also the Prime Minister) and his privileged family. Their head butler is perfect and efficient (William Powell) and this sense of perfection is thrown for a loop when they learn that this butler was just elected to Parliament--as the opposition leader! How could the butler run for Parliament and NO ONE realize it until he's elected?! Again...you must turn off your brain and just accept this. What you also must not question is the notion that the butler will CONTINUE to be the butler AND lead the opposition at the same time!! It's all completely ludicrous and the only aspect of this silly plot I liked is how it showed just how completely clueless these nobles and their families were. After all, they act as if the butler and all their staff were 100% happy robots! What follows is a strange and even more unbelievable romance that blossoms from out of nowhere-- nowhere except the strange mind of the writer.
So we have a ridiculous story and a leading lady who needs closed captioning. What did I like about the film? Well, as usual, William Powell is impressive even if the script isn't. As usual, he's polished, likable and makes his acting seem natural. He manages to make a crappy script work...kind of.
So how could this have worked well? The butler could have instead come forward about running for office and then the fireworks could have exploded. Then, after winning, the film could have worked just fine. This would have at least taken care of that problem with the script. As for the romance....well, it was simply doomed and shouldn't have been in the film at all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This 1938 film, set in an area soon to come under the sway of the Nazi
blitzkrieg, perpetuates a dangerous myth which threatens the survival
of humanity even today: that the working class can get along with (and
even marry into!) the castle owning ilk. Maybe in some alternate
universe Adolf Hitler could have settled down with a nice Jewish girl
and raised 8 kids; maybe there Donald Trump would hire more people than
he fired; maybe there Michigan would have double the number of auto
builders today compared to 35 years ago (in reality, there are 90%
fewer people on the line now); maybe there the wealthy officers would
perform the trench warfare as peasants looked on from distant bunkers
with binoculars; maybe there guys in neck ties would not be sitting at
desks scheming so hard to "privatize" the streets we travel, the water
we drink, and the air we breathe; maybe there the top 1% who owned
one-third of everything would not be so envied by the next 9% who had
to split another third of everything among themselves that these bitter
greed-heads would not feel so compelled to take away more of the final
third from the 90% of us who make up the working class, but WE have to
live in the universe of here and now.
Go ahead, watch THE BARONESS AND THE BUTLER as pure entertainment, rather than as the actual subversive opiate for the masses that Hollywood has churned out for more than a century. (If movies were "green lit" by real Americans from the working folk, flicks such as THE BARONESS AND THE BUTLER or PRETTY WOMAN would never be made!) Why won't Hollywood tell the truth about the likelihood of a working class lamb lying down peacefully with a top 1% lion? Well, to quote Jack Nicholson, it's because YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH.
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