Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ginger Rogers takes it off!

Our next selection is the 1933 comedy Rafter Romance, airing on June 9 at 2:00 PM ET on June 9. It stars the aformentioned Ginger Rogers as a woman struggling to pay the rent in her New York apartment. Her landlord (played by George Sidney) needs the money, so he "solves" the problem by moving her into a garret apartment in the attic. The only thing is, there's another tenant in their already. But that tenant works as a night watchmant, so she can have the apartment at night, while the other tenant can have it during the day, while she's at work. (The question of what happens at the weekend is never really answered.) Rogers, however, quickly discovers that her "roommate" is actually a man -- the fact that women didn't wear trousers back in 1933 is a big giveaway -- making her even more resistant to the idea. But what's she going to do without enough money.

She takes the loft, but quickly grows to resent her unseen roommate for his conceived inconsiderateness -- it's more than just leaving the toilet seat up (although that specific male failing isn't mentioned because they probably couldn't get away with it even in a pre-Code movie). It doesn't help that her job isn't going so well, either. She's working as a telemarketer (who knew they existed all those years ago?) cold-calling people trying to sell them refrigerators, and her boss, well-played by the lecherous Robert Benchley, has his eyes on her. Today, we'd have people shrieking "Sexual harassment!", but bosses, and Hollywood, could get away with so much more in 1933.

The one bright side is that she meets a nice young man, played by Norman Foster, and begins to develop a romantic attraction for him. What she doesn't know, however, is that he is actually her mystery roommate. And needless to say, he doesn't realize, either, that she's his roommate.

Rafter Romance is a really fun movie, packing quite a few laughs into its short 73 minutes. Robert Benchley would be the highlight if it weren't for the fact that Ginger Rogers has enough star power to be the leading lady; as it is his pursuit of Rogers is well worth the watching even with all the other good stuff is going on. Norman Foster gets some good scenes as well; in addition to being a night watchman, he's a struggling artist, with Laura Hope Crews playing a wannabe patron who has a crush on Foster, serving more to irritate him than spur him to bigger and better things artistically. The fact that his landlord wants him to take the money for the obvious reasons doesn't help. There are also the antics between the two roommates when each is trying to get back at the other for the things they've done in the apartment, such as Foster cutting the slats from Rogers' bed. There's a historically interesting scene in which the landlord's son (played by Sidney Miller) draws a bunch of swastikas on the wall, leading to his father's consternation. It's a surprising addition, considering that not too many people in general were trumpeting the dangers of Nazism, and Hollywood certainly wasn't doing so.

Finally, there's the title of this post. Watch for a scene in which Rogers comes home from work, and changes from her women's suit. She takes off the suit jacket -- and the only thing she's got on up top is a substantially large scarf covering the important bits. The outfit isn't just backless; it's sideless too -- and stunning that something this racy shows up, even for a pre-Code.

Rafer Romance was out of circulation for decades. It was made at RKO, and the then head of production, Merian C. Cooper, got the rights to six movies as part of an agreement regarding his severance from the studio. The six movies showed up once on TV in New York in the 1950s, and then weren't seen again in the US for another fifty years, until TCM got the rights to them in 2007 and showed them again. As a result, they haven't ended up on DVD yet.

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