A Damsel in Distress (1937)

A Damsel in DistressDamsel in Distress Poster
Directed by George Stevens
Written by P.G. Wodehouse, Ernest Pagano and S.K. Lauren from a story by P.G. Wodehouse
RKO Radio Pictures

First viewing


A foggy day in London Town/ Had me low and had me down/ I viewed the morning with alarm/ The British Museum had lost its charm/ How long, I wondered, could this thing last?/ But the age of miracles hadn’t passed,/ For, suddenly, I saw you there/ And through foggy London Town/ The sun was shining everywhere. “A Foggy Day”, lyrics by Ira Gershwin

This was the first film Fred Astaire made without Ginger Rogers since they were first paired in 1933’s Flying Down to Rio.  Joan Fontaine is certainly no Ginger but Burns and Allen make surprisingly good dancing partners for Fred.

Everyone expects Lady Alyce Marshmorton (Fontaine) to marry soon and the servants have laid bets on who the lucky man will be.  The prime contenders are the Bertie-Woosterish twit her aunt favors or the American she is in love with.

Jerry Halliday (Astaire) is an American dancer in London.  His press agent (George Burns) has a media campaign that has made him quite the matinée idol and he is chased everywhere by the ladies.  One day, as he is escaping, Alyce takes refuge in his cab to escape the family butler who is tailing her.

A series of misunderstandings causes a number of people to believe Jerry is the American Alyce is in love with and to either try to bring them together or separate them.  Needless to say, they fall in love.  With Constance Collier as the snooty aunt.

Damsell in Distress 1

I don’t rank this with the Astaire-Rogers films but it has many pleasures.  The score is by George and Ira Gershwin and includes the standards “A Foggy Day” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

Burns and Allen are quite funny of course.  The amazing thing was watching them match Astaire step for step in the tap dancing department!  Poor Joan Fontaine looks lovely but struggled to do a basic ballroom dance with Astaire.  She later joked that this movie set her career back four years.


Hermes Pan won an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction for the “Fun House” sequence featuring Astaire, Burns and Allen.  A Damsel in Distress was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Art Direction.

Clip – Astaire taps with Burns and Allen in “Just Begun to Live”


2 thoughts on “A Damsel in Distress (1937)

  1. Why they picked Joan Fontaine to star with Astaire in the film is beyond me……a really bad casting choice and it put me off the movie more than I realized. Burns and Allen, who were one of my favorite early comedy teams, saved it for me……and of course Astaire. But this ranks pretty low in my Astaire list.

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