Rafter Romance, directed by William Seiter and based on a book by John Wells, is no classic, but it's a cute, good-natured comedy about mistaken identity that deserves to be better known, as a romantic comedy and an early solo vehicle for Ginger Rogers. The plot features elements that anticipate Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around The Corner (later the basis for You've Got Mail) as well as The Night We Never Met; and if the treatment isn't remotely as sophisticated as that classic, it's still 72 minutes well-spent, with some excellent actors doing their comedic best. Despite the slightly broad nature of his ethnic portrayal, George Sidney (the actor-uncle of the director of that name) is totally disarming as Eckbaum, the philosophical landlord-cupid of the piece. And the two protagonists are nicely etched (or, at least, sketched), he (Norman Foster) a would-be artist with an independent streak and a slight chip on his shoulder where women are concerned, owing to the pressure put on him by a dowager admirer; and she (Ginger Rogers) a slightly starry-eyed dreamer. And it's clear to the audience that whatever their hopes or dreams, neither is doing well enough financially (or emotionally) to totally make it on their own (but in those Depression times of 1933-34, who was?). For those watching in the twenty-first century, they may not be James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, but they'll do, and Greenwich Village, even in its Hollywood ersatz version, makes a good substitute for Budapest. And Robert Benchley as Rogers' lecherous boss, and Laura Hope Crews as Foster's amorous, alcoholic would-be "patron," provide some added comedic grace-notes to carry the parts of the picture that Rogers, Foster, and Sidney don't, and even pitch up the level of humor several notches in Benchley's case. Plus, there's the added bonus of Guinn Williams as a good-natured oaf who takes a big-brotherly-type interest in Rogers' character, to add to the physical comedy. To be sure, Rafter Romance is no Shop Around The Corner, nor is William Seiter any Ernst Lubitsch, but the movie has its charm -- it was also "lost" for some seven decades; although it was made at and originally distributed by RKO, executive producer Merian C. Cooper owned the copyright and this movie, along with five others (including its remake, Living On Love), essentially became unavailable from the early 1940's onward, until executives at Turner Classic Movies began doing some digging and cleared the rights. Rafter Romance had its first public showing (other than a brief time on New York television in the late 1950's) in over 70 years at New York's Film Forum in February of 2007.
by Bruce Eder review