Monday, September 17, 2018

The Baroness and the Butler

For those of you with FXM, you'll have a chance to catch The Baroness and the Butler, tomorrow morning at 7:10 AM.

Johann Porok (William Powell) is the butler, working in the castle of Count Sandor (Henry Stepehenson) and his wife the Countess (Helen Westley) some miles south of Budapest. The movie opens up on election day, and the Count is also the Prime Minister. Also spending an inordinate time at the castle is the Baroness Katrina (Annabella, Fox's attempt to bring another European star to Hollywood). She's the daughter of the Count and Countess, so in many ways it would make sense that she's at the castle. But she's also married to a Baron (Joseph Schildkraut), and they have a nice residence together in Budapest. The Baron is also a member of Parliament in the PM's coalition, hoping to snag a Cabinet post.

Anyhow, the election brings some surprises, as the opposition makes gains, even electing six members in the PM's region, with the sixth member being... Johann Porok. Now, to me it's the height of absurdity that the PM wouldn't realize that his own butler was one of of the names on the ballot, but apparently, the butler kept it a secret from his boss, and nobody ever noticed. Even nuttier is the idea that Johann wants to continue being the Count's butler, despite having all those duties in parliament and never mind the fact that he's part of the opposition.

Then, in parliament, Johann starts zinging one-liners and trite platitudes, and everybody starts eating them up, making Johann the de facto leader of the opposition. It further complicates Johann's relationship with his boss, as well as putting a wrench in the Baron's political aspirations. And if that's not bad enough, Johann has always been in love with the Baroness who is as taken with Johann's slogans as everybody else.

The only saving grace in all of this is that the Baron sees a chance to get what he wants by catching Johann in a compromising situation with the Baroness. And yet throughout it all the Baron is seen as the bad guy in all of this!

As you can tell, I had a lot of problems with The Baroness and the Butler, mostly down to script that expects us to believe a whole bunch of idiotic things. The actors do the best they can with the material, which is sort of a bottom-shelf comedy of the sort that they could have done in their sleep. (None of my objections have anything to do with any political views expressed in the movie, since both Porok and the Count are portrayed as good people despite their political opposition.) This sort of material has been written much better in any number of other movies of the era.

The Baroness and the Butler is available on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme, but I wouldn't pay those prices for it.

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