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The year before she made The Housekeeper's Daughter for producer-director Hal Roach at United Artists, Joan Bennett had switched her image from innocent blonde to sexy brunette, inspiring the writers of a New York revue to create the lyric "Let's talk of Lamarr, that Hedy so fair/Is it true that Joan Bennett wears all her old hair?"
In this boisterous comedy/mystery, Bennett (who resembles Hedy Lamarr here) plays Hilda, a gangster's moll who tires of being a decoy and flees the mob scene to live with her mother, Olga (Peggy Wood), the housekeeper for a wealthy family. The son of the rich folks is a young professor (John Hubbard) who stumbles onto clues about the murder of a showgirl (Lilian Bond) that could incriminate Hilda's ex-lover, and she helps crack the case. Also involved are a hard-drinking reporter (Adolphe Menjou), his photographer sidekick (William Gargan) and their excitable editor (Donald Meek). The zany finale involves dueling fireworks.
For the film's advertising, UA came up with some rhymes of its own, among them "She Couldn't Keep House! She Couldn't Cook! But What She Knew About Men Would Fill A Book!"; "She Couldn't Cook, She Couldn't Sew, But Oh How She Could So and So!"; and "Five Men Ran After The Housekeeper's Daughter...Who Treated Them Like She Hadn't Oughter!" Bennett, part of a distinguished acting family, was unamused. According to biographer Brian Kellow, she enlisted the aid of 2,600 women's clubs across the country in objecting to the crude slogans and threatening a boycott. But after the protests attracted wide publicity, they actually gave the movie a boost at the box office!
The Housekeeper's Daughter marked the film debut of Victor Mature in the small role of a gangster called Lefty. The following year Mature would create a sensation as the beefy caveman hero in One Million B.C. (1940), beginning a long career as a star.
Producer/Director: Hal Roach
Screenplay: Gordon Douglas, Rian James, from story by Donald Henderson Clarke
Cinematography: Norbert Brodine
Film Editing: William H. Ziegler
Original Music: Amedeo De Filippi, Lucien Moraweck (uncredited)
Art Direction: Charles D. Hall
Costume Design: Irene
Cast: Joan Bennett (Hilda), Adolphe Menjou (Deakon Maxwell), John Hubbard (Robert Randall), William Gargan (Ed O'Malley), George E. Stone (Benny), Peggy Wood (Olga), Donald Meek (Editor Wilson), Victor Mature (Lefty).
by Roger Fristoe