review for A Damsel in Distress on AllMovie

A Damsel in Distress (1937)
by Craig Butler review

A Damsel in Distress stars Fred Astaire and therefore is worth watching, but while it's charming and diverting, it's still a bit of a disappointment overall. There are problems with the script -- a few dead spots, some forced humor -- but no more so than in most musicals of the period. Unfortunately, George Stevens' uneven direction, which doesn't create the sense of spontaneity that a lightweight vehicle such as this requires, keeps the film from taking off as much as it needs to. He is not helped by Joan Fontaine, whose nascent dramatic abilities do not compensate for her slender musical and (especially) terpsichorean abilities. Fortunately, Astaire is on hand to make up for his co-star's shortcomings, which he does in spades, especially in his famous "drum dance," an atmospheric "A Foggy Day," a close-harmony "Nice Work if You Can Get It" and a charming "Things Are Looking Up." Fred is helped enormously by George Burns and Gracie Allen, in what may be their best big screen performance. The three have a delightful broom dance, and Gracie sells "Stiff Upper Lip" with her bizarrely unique brand of charm. This trio of chums and the dazzling Gershwin brothers score lift Damsel up quite a few notches, even if it's not enough to make it a classic of the genre.