Rafter Romance (1933)

Film Review

RAFTER ROMANCE

Release Date: 1 September, 1933

Studio: RKO

Director: William A. Seiter

Stars: Ginger Rogers, Norman Foster, George Sidney

Writers: H. W. Haneman, Sam Mintz, screenplay; based on the 1932 novel by John Wells.

Cinematographer: David Abel

Synopsis

Mary Carroll (Rogers) and Jack Bacon (Foster) are struggling to pay the rent on their apartments. Eckbaum (Sidney), their landlord, suggests that, without having to meet, they share the attic space on the 4th floor. Mary, who sells ice boxes, will occupy the space from 8 pm to 8 am, and Jack, a nightwatchman, will have it from 8am to 8pm. Reluctantly, each agrees.

Although they do not see one another, they quickly develop mutual enmity based upon petty grievances. Jack objects to Mary’s things left around the place and thinks of her as a fussy spinster. Mary objects to Jack’s arrangements and thinks he must be a crabby upstart from out of town. Soon, they are writing each other insulting, innuendo-filled, notes.

They meet on the street outside the apartment. Mary, waiting for 8 pm, is sitting at a delicatessen across from the apartment building. Not realizing who she is, Jack flirts with her. Another night, flirting again, they take a romantic walk in the park and agree to meet the next night for dinner.

In the attic, the enmity has advanced to sabotage. The night of the dinner, Jack has adjusted the make-shift shower so that the bucket through which the water flows falls on Mary’s head. In retaliation, Mary puts his only suit in the shower. When Jack turns on the water, his suit is soaked. In a rainstorm, Mary is waiting in the park for Jack who is trying to get his suit dried. They just miss each other at the park and at the delicatessen. The next day, Mary will not talk to him. That evening, they reconcile over a Chinese dinner. Back in the attic, Jack saws through the legs of the bed which collapses when Mary lies on it.

Jack and Mary go to a picnic. Jack hurts his ankle, and Mary takes him home in a taxi. She goes to his apartment with him, and they discover each other’s alternate identity. The built up enmity is too much to overcome immediately, and they separate. However, true love cannot be denied, and outside the apartment house, they kiss and make up. Eckbaum, watching them from his window, congratulates himself for having brought them together.

Discussion

This cute and fun romantic comedy revolves on a social problem of the Depression era: unemployment and low wages prevented many people from affording good housing, even though housing was inexpensive. Two people forced to share an attic space, each on a part time basis, is treated comically, but was a situation with which the contemporary audience would have been familiar. Director Seiter maintains a lively pace during the short 73 min running time. Rogers and Foster effectively bring out the appealing personalities and the comic potential of their characters.

After several years in vaudeville and musical theater, Rogers made her first feature film in 1930 (Young Man of Manhattan, starring Claudette Colbert and Norman Foster). For the next few years, she appeared in program level fare, usually comedies, often as the female lead (Carnival Boat (1932), Professional Sweetheart (1933)), sometimes as the wise cracking friend of the female lead (Hat Check Girl (1932), Broadway Bad (1933), Finishing School (1934)). She is even a murder victim in Upperworld (1934). Rogers advanced to stardom after she was paired with Fred Astaire, starting with Flying Down to Rio (1933).

In 1933, Rogers was still developing a screen persona. Compared to her screen presence later in her career, her voice is higher, her makeup softer, her personality less distinct, and her acting less polished. She looks pretty but lacks the refinement and glamour that came with experience and stardom.

Foster, a light weight actor, is amusing in his role and a pleasant partner for Rogers. He entered films in 1929 and by 1936 had appeared in over 40 films, his roles almost equally divided between support and leads. By 1936, Foster’s acting career was stagnating, if not declining, into leads in very low budget films and supporting roles in somewhat higher budget fare. In 1936, he transitioned from acting to directing and writing for the B-unit of 20th Century-Fox. During the late 1930’s he wrote some of the screenplays and directed most of Peter Lorre's Mr. Moto films.