Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Maid's Night Out

Who ever knew Joan Fontaine sould do screwball comedy? Well, some would probably say that Fontaine couldn't do it very well. You get a chance to judge for yourself when TCM shows Maid's Night Out at 2:00 PM today.

Fontaine plays Sheila, the daughter of a family who, thanks to the ongoing Depression, are less well-off financially than they used to be. Her family is hoping that she can marry a nice, wealthy (with a decided preference for wealthy) young man like Wally. But, into her life walks Bill (Allan Lane). Bill is the milkman, but he's not really a milkman. He's the son of the dairy company's owner, who thinks that Bill is irresponsible, largely because Bill wants to study tropical fish in their native environment. But Dad makes an agreement with Bill, that if Bill can show responsibility by working at the bottom rung of the ladder in Dad's company, then Dad will let him use the family yacht to go to the tropics. So that's how our wealthy young man comes into Sheila's life as a milkman. The thing is, however, because of the hard times Sheila's family is facing, Bill thinks she's the maid. It would be a huge problem for Bill if he tried to romance a maid -- there's that responsibility thing that Dad keeps talking about. And Sheila's parents certainly don't want her to go out with the milkman. So, the usual predictable complications ensue.

Maid's Night Out was made at a time relatively early in Fontaine's career when she hadn't yet become a star: Rebecca was still two years in the future. So, Fontaine was doing B movies at RKO, and Maid's Night Out is decidedly a B movie. The situations are predictable, and you know there's going to be a happy ending. So, it's a bit difficult to determine how much of any criticism this movie might receive is down to a plot we've seen twenty times or more already, and how much of it is due to a cast of people who, other than Fontaine, were all supporting players. (Watch for the part of Bill's cousin. That's played by an actress with the stage name of Vicki Lester. Yes, that's actually the name she took.) This is the sort of film that didn't get the high-class treatment. That having been said, though, while Maid's Night Out is piffle, it's decidedly entertaining piffle. Fontaine makes the best of a subpar plot and gives us a movie which is zany even though it really strains credulity. Then again, it is a screwball comedy. And it's only about 70 minutes, so if you don't particularly like it, you haven't wasted too much time.

Maid's Night Out has yet to receive a DVD release from the Warner Archive, so you're going to have to watch the rare TCM showing.

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