8 December 2018 | SimonJack
He buttles his way from the castle to parliament
This is a fine film in the small category of butler and maid comedies. In most such films, a leading character assumes the identity of a butler for any number of reasons, with madcap comedy resulting. But, "The Baroness and the Butler" is different in that the butler here is a bona fide servant of the Hungarian prime minister. And, he's proud to be the head of the household staff, having followed in the footsteps of his father and ancestors before him.
William Powell plays Johann Porok in the lead role. This is his second time as a butler - having played a wealthy Bostonian in disguise in "My Man Godfrey" of 1936. But, here Powell is a loyal servant who runs a perfect household for Count Albert Sandor and his family. Henry Stephenson plays the count who also happens to be the prime minister, as head of the ruling political party in Hungary.
The film has a talented cast that includes Annabella, the French star who was making her American film debut. She plays Baroness Katrina Marissey, daughter of the Count and Countess Sandor (played by Helen Westley). She is married to Baron Georg Marissey, who is played by Joseph Schildkraut. Nigel Bruce has a nice role as a pompous and bumbling Major Andros.
Porok is so well liked by the count and countess and their family, that he's almost one of the family. Well, not quite, because he's still not of their class. But they fret that Johann has no prospects of marriage, because they want his progeny to continue in the service to their family.
That's the setting when things begin to unravel as Johann wins a seat in parliament in the opposition party. He will continue to work as a devoted servant for the count, but in the parliament he is the leader of the forces that seek to wrest control of the country. Johann's speeches point to the ineptitude of the count and his party. All of this provides a fine mix of light drama and light comedy.
The best part is the relationship between Johann and the baroness. Her demeanor gradually changes from one of indignation at the thought of Johann's rise in status, to one of admiration. And, of course, love has been blooming underneath all of this. The count's role is one of an affable gentleman who admires Johann as well for his political enterprise.
The film has a nice outcome for all. It doesn't have the hilarity of the butler and maid films with mishaps and antics. But, even with a less frivolous setting and plot, this film has some very good humor and fun. It makes a nice addition to a small library of butler and maid comedy films.