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A Damsel in Distress (1937)

Passed | | Comedy, Music, Romance | 19 November 1937 (USA)
Lady Alyce Marshmorton must marry soon, and the staff of Tottney Castle have laid bets on who she'll choose, with young Albert wagering on "Mr. X". After Alyce goes to London to meet a beau... See full summary »


George Stevens


P.G. Wodehouse (from the story by), Ian Hay (play) | 5 more credits »

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Won 1 Oscar. Another 1 nomination. See more awards »


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Complete credited cast:
Fred Astaire ... Jerry Halliday
George Burns ... George
Gracie Allen ... Gracie
Joan Fontaine ... Lady Alyce
Reginald Gardiner ... Keggs
Ray Noble ... Reggie
Constance Collier ... Lady Caroline
Montagu Love ... Lord Marshmorton
Harry Watson Harry Watson ... Albert
Jan Duggan ... Miss Ruggles


Lady Alyce Marshmorton must marry soon, and the staff of Tottney Castle have laid bets on who she'll choose, with young Albert wagering on "Mr. X". After Alyce goes to London to meet a beau (bumping into dancer Jerry Halliday, instead), she is restricted to the castle to curb her scandalous behavior. Albert then summons Jerry to Alyce's aid in order to "protect his investment". Written by Diana Hamilton <hamilton@gl.umbc.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


With Sword in Hand He Goes to the Head of the Clash!. See more »


Comedy | Music | Romance


Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

19 November 1937 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Demoiselle en détresse See more »


Box Office


$1,035,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Victor System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


When Jerry, George, and Gracie drive to Lady Alyce's house, they are in a 1936 Cord 810 convertible coupe. With a MSRP at the time of 2,145 dollars (thirty-seven thousand dollars in 2016), such a car in 2016 could be worth up to three hundred thousand dollars depending on condition. See more »


Lord Marshmorton calls Reggie a "saxaphone-playing pest", when Reggie has been playing the trumpet. See more »


Lady Alyce: [She has just jumped into Jerry's taxi to get away from Keggs] I suppose you're wondering what this is all about?
Jerry Halliday: Oh, no. It's none of my business.
Lady Alyce: And, and of course, you're much too well bred to inquire in other people's business?
Jerry Halliday: Of course I am.
[He turns to her]
Jerry Halliday: What's it all about?
Lady Alyce: Well, I'm in a simple piece of trouble, and it would bore you to death if I told you about it.
See more »


Referenced in The Hollywood Palace: Episode #2.16 (1965) See more »


Nice Work If You Can Get It
(1937) (uncredited)
Words by Ira Gershwin
Music by George Gershwin
Performed by Betty Rome, Jan Duggan, Mary Dean, Fred Astaire,
Pearl Amatore
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User Reviews

"In foggy London town, the sun is shining everywhere"
12 September 2008 | by ackstasisSee all my reviews

There's a perfectly good reason why Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made nine films together between 1933 and 1939 – the pairing worked! Astaire's toe-tappin' class was complemented perfectly by the light-hearted comedic charms of his female co-star, and that he and Rogers never overshadowed each other was crucial to the success of their collaborations. 'A Damsel in Distress (1937)' sees Astaire, for the first time since his debut, momentarily set adrift from this celebrated partnership. It's a pleasant and enjoyable musical comedy, but it doesn't entirely work because Fred is clearly the main attraction, creating an imbalance of tone that feels somehow unsatisfying. Joan Fontaine, in an early role, fills in as the primary romantic interest; she's not particularly convincing here – but, geez, she's gorgeous! – and her charms would carry her along sufficiently until her superb star-making performance in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rebecca (1940).' Husband-and-wife vaudeville duo George Burns and Gracie Allen provide most of the welcome comic relief, which is basically an extension of their popular stage act.

'A Damsel in Distress' was directed by George Stevens {who had previously worked with Astaire in 'Swing Time (1936)} and adapted by P.G. Wodehouse from his own 1919 novel. Jerry Halliday (Astaire) is a famous American dancer, frustrated by all his publicity, who falls in love with the beautiful Lady Alyce Marshmorton (Fontaine), whom he believes has inexplicably fallen in love with him. What Jerry doesn't realise is that Lady Alyce has actually fallen in love with a different (unseen) American, and that he is being misled by the staff at Tottney Castle, who have placed bets on who their mistress will eventually marry. Reginald Gardiner hilariously hams it up as Keggs, the scheming butler who apparently can't resist belting out an opera when the appropriate music starts playing. Burns and Allen provide the necessary supporting back-up (even matching Astaire step-for-step in the "Fun House" musical number), with the latter playing the ditsy eccentric with perfect composure, utilising more cringeworthy puns than Groucho Marx in 'Duck Soup (1933).'

George Gershwin played a significant role in getting Stevens' film made in the first place, and his songs were completed before script-work actually began. Tragically, the composer died from a brain tumour before production was completed. There were not quite as many musical numbers as I had expected, and very few stood out in my memory like Astaire's greatest tunes. Nevertheless, the "Fun House" number was an elaborate, precisely-orchestrated dance sequence, making superb use of reflections, moving sets and confined spaces. Most memorable of all was Astaire's rendition of "A Foggy Day (In London Town)," performed as the actor traipses gracefully through a fog-ridden forest. Joan Fontaine was the first actress to admit her insufficient capacity to play a convincing terpsichorean, and so she only attempts it once, and, all things considered, she doesn't embarrass herself all that much. She is, of course, always a joy to watch, but her character's "I love you… now I hate you… no, wait, I love you again" routine is overdone and unpersuasive.

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