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The Baroness and the Butler

(1938 b 79’)

En: 6 Ed: 6

Based on Leslie Bush-Fekete’s play and directed by Walter Lang, an intelligent butler serves the family of the Prime Minister of Hungary and is elected to Parliament as a progressive Socialist. His speeches are successful, and he soon replaces the Prime Minister while continuing to work as his butler. The butler is also in love with the Prime Minister’s daughter, and she is married.
      In Budapest forty miles from the House of Parliament at Castle Sandor a servant wheels in a cart with a glass for the butler Johann Porok (William Powell) who is in bed and gets dressed with the help of his valet. The butler goes downstairs and inspects a line of more than a dozen servants. He reprimands them for errors and talks to the gardener. He gives them time to vote on the last day of the Parliamentary elections.
      The butler gives instructions to the maid Klari (Lynn Bari) who refers to the Prime Minister of Hungary as a “stuffed shirt,” and he tells her not to do that. He inspects the food on the carts and leads them to the master’s bedroom, letting in the dog. He says good morning to Count Albert Sandor (Henry Stephenson) and congratulations him on his triumph. Albert says he would like to get out of politics and notes that the butler is completely happy. He thanks the butler for the comfort he provides for him. He remembers his grandfather and father who were also butlers there. The butler pats his mouth with a napkin and goes out.
      The butler takes a cart into the room of the Baroness Katrina Marissey (Annabella) who asks about her father and whether the butler is married. He says he is not married or anything. She says he represents a dynasty, and she advises him to get a capable wife. She says two get farther, but he says he does not get very far. She spills something on her nightgown, and he wipes it clean. Her mother Countess Sandor (Helen Westley) comes in, and he goes out. Katrina says everything is fine, and the Countess says the butler does everything well. She asks Katrina why she married Georg.
      Albert is hunting with the assistance of the butler who goes off and tells three men to serve up the prey. The butler hides behind a tree and shoots a bird at the same time that Albert shoots. Albert is happy he shot three birds and asks the butler if he heard an echo.
      Katrina dives into the pool and swims. She gets right out, and the butler Johann puts a robe on her. He says that when the final election results are announced, her father is going to talk on the radio.
      Klari asks Johann if he could learn to like her, but he says three other women are very jealous.
      Albert, the Countess, and Katrina come to the dining table. Klari lets Baron Georg Marissey (Joseph Schildkraut) in, and he says the opposition won six seats. Johann is surprised at the number. Georg says Johann is the perfect butler his wife talks about, but the Countess asks Albert why Johann committed such a faux pas. Albert tells him to turn on the radio, and Johann does so. The radio announces that the Socialists elected six deputies. Johann turns it off and says he has something important to tell them. Georg asks for the radio, and Johann turns it back on. The radio announces that the butler Johann Porok is one of the Socialists elected. They are surprised, and Johann says that was his important news. The Countess wonders why he is going to Parliament. Johann says his party put him in the sixth place, and he expected only three would be elected. The Countess says he is in the opposing party and asks how he can do that. Johann says he is not a gentleman and so has time to educate himself. Katrina asks if he will betray them, but he says he won’t. Albert believes him and asks what he will do without him. He asks how he can teach a new butler, but Johann says he will keep his position as butler while in Parliament. Katrina asks if he will spy on her father’s party. Albert says he can accompany him in Parliament now, and he asks for a glass of cognac. Katrina wonders if her father can trust him.
      They go to a microphone where Albert will speak without a prepared speech as usual. A man introduces the Prime Minister, and Albert thanks the people for trusting his party. He says their program can be reduced to the word “bread” because they promise bread for all. The announcer asks about his butler’s election. Albert says he is still there and calls Johann over and asks for his opinion of the situation. The announcer asks Johann to speak, and Albert introduces him as a new deputy from the progressive Socialist Party. Johan says he does not see things going that well. He criticizes the Conservative Party that has allowed the working people to become more desperate while the wealthy have done very well. He criticizes Albert for promising a chicken in every pot. He calls bread another empty promise. He says his party will give them bread. The announcer concludes the broadcast from the Prime Minister’s castle. Albert commends Johann for his splendid speech.
      Outside four gypsies dance as an orchestra plays. Katrina is congratulated for the party she organized for a children’s charity. Women ask her about the election of their butler. Johann lights the cigarette for a woman and serves sugar in her coffee. Katrina sends him to get more sugar, and they talk about him. A lady says the butler gave a great speech yesterday in Parliament they heard. A lady says she did not understand it and invites him to her house to clarify it for her. He says he could on his day off. Katrina says she is not interested in going to hear him. The women leave, and Johann hands Katrina the cash they raised for the charity. She is upset, leaves, and stumbles on the stairs. Johann comes to her aid and picks her up because she has a twisted knee. She tells him to put her down, but he carries her into the house. Klari says the phone is for Katrina who asks her to take a message.
      Johann lays Katrina on her bed, and he asks her to expose her leg so he can put on heat, but she asks for a cold pack. He bring something hot.
      In the Parliament the session begins, and Katrina sneaks into the balcony with dark glasses. Johann speaks about how they promise relief for the people, but the present government does nothing to help the people who will soon have nothing left to be relieved of.
      A newspaper reports how the butler defied the Prime Minister and started a battle.
      In a car the Countess asks Katrina why they are going to Parliament, but Katrina tells her that the butler is making her father a laughing stock.
      In Parliament politicians discuss strategy. The Countess and Katrina sit in the balcony. The Countess says she has never been there before. Katrina says someone has to stand up for her father. Katrina describes how well Johann looked as he made fun of her father. Johann helps Albert to his seat and straightens his tie. Albert sends him across the room to tear him apart. He says his wife and daughter are here today. Johann says he will do his best and goes to his side. One man asks him how long he will go on working for the Prime Minister. Johann says he is a good employer. Johann says his work for the Count is different from his work with them. He refuses to quit.
      The Parliament session opens, and the Countess says she does not understand what they are saying. Major Andros (Nigel Bruce) comes in and sits with the two ladies. He asks Katrina to go for coffee, but she wants to listen. He tries to woo her, but she says she is a married woman. He criticizes Georg as a philanderer and leaves in a huff.
      Albert says they will keep their promise to pass a bill in this session even though it may be difficult. Johann says the Prime Minister always promises and would carry them out if it were not for the difficulties. He suggests calling him the Duke of Difficulties. He says they promised them an old-age pension law, but they did not get it. He also promised a reduction in armaments, but it did not happen. The other members say, “Difficulties” to confirm why he did not get these laws. Johann sees a strap is loose on the Count’s shoes, and he tries to alert him of his support problem. Albert sees it, and Johann goes on with his speech. He accuses him of reactionary policies. Katrina throws something at Johann, and the Socialist leader accuses an old man who is asleep. The members throw things, and the two ladies leave.
      Outside the Countess says that is a madhouse. Albert and Johann ride in the same car, and Johann returns to Katrina what she threw.
      Albert tells Katrina that is no reason to discharge the butler. Albert complains he had to wait for him outside Parliament for the first time. Johann comes in, and the Countess asks where he has been. Johann says he had to change clothes. Albert tells him to serve the tea first. Katrina refuses to have some. Georg comes in and sits at the table. He asks to talk privately with Albert who sends Johann away. Georg says he has unpleasant news. Albert lost a vote of confidence. Katrina asks if he is no longer Prime Minister, and he says that is right. Georg says they wanted a coalition cabinet, but no one wanted to stick his neck out. Katrina complains that Georg did not stop the vote. Georg asks Albert if he was right, and Albert says he was. Albert and the Countess go for a walk. Georg and Katrina talk, and she says Johann’s speeches were good. He says he has to make telephone calls and goes out.
      Katrina pulls a cord, and Johann comes in and asks what she wants. She accuses him of destroying her father. She tells him her father was defeated, and he thanks her for the news. She says he goes right on working, and nothing disturbs him. He is clearing away the dishes. He says he prefers to keep quiet, but she asks him to talk. He says he is at her service. She says he serves them beautifully. She asks what he has been working for. He mentions what various servants have been working for. He says she never showed any interest in any of them. She asks if working for her father has meant anything to him. He says he loves her father dearly, but he considers his political policies harmful. He is kind but cloaks a policy that is unjust. Albert comes in and asks where he has been. Johann is surprised that he dressed without him, and he fixes up his clothes. Katrina says she has to go to town and goes out.
      Albert tells Johann that he has to give him notice because he is no longer a good servant since he has been busy in Parliament. He says it is not because he attacked him in Parliament. He says he will get two weeks pay. They say goodbye and hope to see each other in Parliament. Johann thanks him for his kindness to him and goes out.
      A secretary is reading a guest list to Katrina, and the Countess comes in and asks for an aspirin. Katrina says she is being a good wife by giving a ball. She says Georg wants the blue blood to mingle with the red. The Countess says her father fired Johann, and Katrina says it is about time and that it serves him right.
      An orchestra plays as well dressed people dance. Major Andros tells Katrina he wants to get her alone, but she is called away to her husband.
      Katrina finds Georg in a room, and he says she looks beautiful. He says he invited Johann, and she rings for a servant and says she will not let him in. He says he is the man of the hour, and he hopes he may be made a member of the cabinet. He says some will have nothing to do with him because he was a servant. Johann comes in, and Georg welcomes him warmly with a pat on his back. She asks Katrina to introduce him to their friends, and he says he will join them soon and goes out. Johann says he has no desire to be shown around. He says he came to see his colleagues, and she asks why he is well dressed. He says he came from a Toscanini concert. He says last time she offered him wine. She says he is a guest and asks him to sit down. She suggests they talk. He says this is the first time that a member of his family has ever sat in the presence of a member of her family. She asks if this moment is worth a great fight, and he says it is. He lights her cigarette and says he smuggled the cigarettes across the border. She offers him brandy, and he recalls how he selected her presents for her. She realizes she bought clothes for her in the right size. She leads him into the conservatory and asks if his changes have made him happier. He says he did not expect it would. She asks why he went into Parliament. He says he has bold dreams. He recalls how he had to answer a bell so often. She shakes hands with him and asks if they can start over. He kisses her hand. She says his Party’s ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity are coming to pass with her and him. He says there is no equality really. He still does not have the courage to throw off the chains that bind his life. She asks if his ambition and career are because of her. He says he knew he could never be by her side. She asks what he wants. He says he wants her to throw him out. He confesses that he loves her; but he hates her because she does not know it. She lives with a man she despises for the sake of appearances. Her life is a sham and a fraud. She is spoiled, proud, and unjust, but he loves her. He tells her to throw him out and says he wants her to do it. She puts her arms around him. Major Andre comes in with Georg who remarks on her hospitality. He says someone is leaving and wants to thank her for the party. She goes out, and the Major follows her. Georg and Johann sit down, and Georg lights Johann’s cigarette. Georg says he wants to talk to him about something important. He says he agrees with his progressive party and wants to join them, but he expects to serve in a worthy position.
      Katrina and the Countess are saying goodnight to people, and Georg and Johann come over. Georg tells Katrina not to worry and goes out. Johann says good night to Katrina and leaves. The Countess says Johann had a strange look on his face, and Katrina says something wonderful happened and that Georg saw her kissing Johann’s hand.
      In the morning Katrina tells her mother that she slept well. Katrina is happy and asks her mother if she ever thrilled to a young man. The Countess says there was an engineer. She tells about how she danced with man who sold cucumbers. Katrina says this boy is educated and charming. The Countess says a scandal is staring them in the face and asks why she is laughing.
      Albert comes home, and the Countess and Katrina greet him. Albert says that Georg is to be the new Minister of Commerce in the Socialist cabinet. Katrina asks about Johann, and Albert says he is retiring from politics but is not coming back to them. Katrina asks why he is giving this up, and Albert says he is protecting her. Albert says he cannot make a minister out of his former butler to help his daughter because it would not look good. Albert says Johann is going to nominate Georg in Parliament at noon. Katrina runs out.
      Katrina drives a car herself at 11:40. She parks in front of Parliament. She goes in and asks for Johann. A soldier directs her to his office.
      Johann tells Katrina to come in and says he hoped he would not hear about it until it was settled. She objects, but he says her husband threatened them with scandal. She does not want him to sacrifice himself. She says she does not care what anyone says. She admits she was wrong about so much, and she says she loves him and wants to help him. He says he loves her and will never stop loving her. He gets her to promise that he will never do anything foolish. They embrace and kiss as George and the Major come in. The Major escorts Katrina out to listen to the session.
      The Major, Katrina, and the Countess sit in the balcony. The chair recognizes Johann who says they need a unified cabinet at once. He wants to nominate someone to be Minister of Commerce and says this is a man who will go to any length to get what he wants. He says the man is Georg Marissey, and members shout their objections. Katrina shouts her objection, and Georg tells them to clear the gallery. Johann begs to have her removed also. The Countess complains too. Katrina says that her husband is trying to save her, but last night she discovered that she is in love with Johann. She explains that Georg offered her a divorce if Johann would nominate him for a cabinet post. She asks if they want Georg or Johann. The members says they want Johann and congratulate him.
      Johann is in bed, and Katrina as the new maid brings him breakfast on a tray. He thanks her, and they embrace on the bed.
This comedy satirizes the old European class system that separates servants from the ruling class by showing that a capable butler can be a better a politician and bring about the policies that the country really needs which have been blocked for so long by the conservative and wealthy rulers.

Copyright © 2013 by Sanderson Beck

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