Gracie Allen‘s comedy in the 1937 A Damsel in Distress is easy to take only in small doses, which is what we get (for his part, George Burns is a zero). Allen, at any rate, is not the movie’s leading lady; Joan Fontaine is, and Fred Astaire the leading man. Fontaine’s acting, however, is lukewarm, but she has far less to do than Astaire, who is his usual buoyant self. With his engaging dancing.
The George Stevens-directed Damsel has its shortcomings, but it’s a splendid musical-comedy with Gershwin songs. Its more or less fun book is mostly a P.G. Wodehouse creation, and its cast (largely American, playing Brits [with accent deficiency]) is winsome. Stevens does well in maneuvering the dancing Astaire and Fontaine outdoors around multiple trees to the tune of the very pretty “Things Are Looking Up.” And there is much to like in the wild, comic dance number set in a carnival. Other Gershwin songs, such as “I Can’t Be Bothered Now” and “A Foggy Day,” are musically and lyrically good.
The best thing about Damsel is that it’s enchanting.