Originally published on ClassicFlix.com
“Cinderella was a dark horse,” a phrase which best sums up the comedic romance, Girl Trouble. This effervescent comedy starring Don Ameche and Joan Bennett takes a simple premise, clocking in at less than 90-minutes, and turns into a screwball caper about the haves and the used to haves.
The screwball comedy was best suited for the 1930s when the perils of the Great Depression turned audiences away from the breadlines and on to the movie screen, if only for a few moments. The greatest screwballs took a flighty socialite or playboy and aligning them with a commoner who didn’t put up with their…schtick. When war in the Pacific broke out a decade later audiences weren’t interested in watching the glittering world of the wealthy, not when the nation’s young men were dying a world away.
The 1940s screwball was a different animal, trying to capture audiences by showing the wealthy…and the slightly less wealthy. In this case, our heroine June Delaney (Bennett) is a socialite whose only problem in life is finding the best way to avoid donating to the daffy Mrs. Rowland’s (Billie Burke) charity auction. When June is told she’s flat broke she decides to rent out her apartment to Venezuelan playboy, Pedro Sullivan (Ameche). Upon meeting, Pedro accidentally thinks June’s his maid – she was cleaning her house in a maid outfit prior to his arrival – and precedes to employ her.
The script, by Robert Riley Crutcher who worked on Hazel, Bewitched, and Clark Gable’s 1950 Key to the City, establishes a sitcom premise with the movie’s series of gags involving June acclimating to life as a domestic and Pedro being inundated with visitors of June’s. The only setup we have is June learning she’s broke and almost immediately Pedro arrives, but that’s all we need as the audience wants to watch these two create hijinks and fall in love. The script is also rather self-aware of its absurdity. The name “Pedro Sullivan” doesn’t exactly inspire images of a Latin Lothario who lives in South America despite Ameche’s swarthy looks. Instead, Pedro says he’s “obviously” half Latin, and that’s enough for the audience to believe his character. Later on, when a group of June’s friends come hold a meeting in her house, Pedro finds their disrespect annoying, evidence that not every wealthy person is obsessed with having fun. In fact, he’s not afraid to tell June that Ms. Delaney – unaware he’s actually speaking to her – must be a “moron” to have friends like that, and that June’s a saint for staying employed. Geez, Pedro, tell us how you really feel.
The premise is certainly silly, but Ameche and Bennett are just riveting in ways hearkening back to My Man Godfrey. (The screenwriters had to hope audiences would make the comparisons between both features premise of a wealthy person masquerading as a domestic.) Ameche’s an urbane take on William Powell while Bennett is a more controlled take on Carole Lombard. The intriguing element turning this away from the earlier comedy, is the fact neither of our wealthy characters are ridiculously over-the-top. The situation the two are enmeshed in is comic, but the two characters aren’t flibbertygibbets running around creating caper upon caper. Instead, the situations where June’s ruse is almost exposed come from outsiders, led by a duplicitious friend of June’s. Really, the romance evolves organically between the two leads and each provides half the charisma to create one power couple.
There are a few outside plots, individual ones for each of the leads. June’s ruse and attempts to tap a new source of income occupy her. Ameche is given a more business-oriented plot involving his company’s oil business and looking for funding; both Pedro and June are one step away from losing their respective shirts, more in common than they believed. Each storyline is rather self-contained outside of the mistaken identity premise, and it isn’t until the two fall in love that each one receives the money they seek, a reward or trophy for finding each other.
Director Harold Schuster directed several films after this, most notably My Friend Flicka and So Dear to My Heart under other names or different variations of his name. He eventually turned to television before retiring in 1966. Ameche and Bennett’s biggest films were waiting in the wings. The next year, Ameche would go on to fame in the iconic Ernst Lubitsch classic, Heaven Can Wait, while Bennett became a femme fatale darling, eventually turning into everyone’s favorite mother and wife to Spencer Tracy’s Father of the Bride.
Girl Trouble is a fun frivolous early feature from two great comic stars that eschews the typical 1930s screwball comedy in order to create a hybrid. We laugh at the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but the leads are just too charming to pass up so you can’t judge them for never truly struggling like they should. Cinderella may have been a dark horse, but there’s enough trouble to keep girls and guys entertained.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.