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Ray Milland (Star of the Month)
Remind Me
,A Woman of Distinction

A Woman of Distinction

As the straight-laced dean of a New England women's college in A Woman of Distinction (1950), Susan Middlecott is a woman with all her ducks in a row and no room in her life for a man. She appears to live contentedly with her father Mark and an adopted World War II orphan Louisa (Mary Jane Saunders). As happens in films about successful and driven women, Susan is also about to have fate intervene. An overzealous press agent Teddy Evans (Janis Carter), shepherding a handsome British astronomy professor Alec Stevenson (Ray Milland) on the lecture circuit, learns that Alec has Susan's locket in his possession. The locket was given to Susan by a dying French resistance fighter. Teddy stumbles upon the idea of concocting a romance between Susan and Alec.

Soon all of the newspapers are abuzz with tales of the love struck academics, a notion that Susan fights all the way. A slapstick push and pull begins between the couple, with circumstances conspiring to throw them together on train trips and in remote mountain hideaways. Stevenson at one point asserts "you are the coldest woman I've ever met in my life!" But as a New York Times review of the film noted "The aim is to show that the lady has room in her career for romance – a definitely foregone conclusion."

Susan's father Mark Middlecott (Edmund Gwenn) tends to agree with Alec's assessment, goading his daughter that marriage and not a career has always been his real life's ambition for her. Mark is soon in on the fun, pushing his spinster daughter into the arms of the confused professor, determined to rescue her from her fruitless career trap. More scandal ensues when doubts begin to emerge about the paternity of Susan's adopted daughter Louisa.

The script for A Woman of Distinction was purchased by Columbia Pictures from Frank Capra at Paramount. Jean Arthur and Cary Grant were initially meant to star in the film. Later possibilities for the Rosalind Russell role included Loretta Young and Joan Fontaine.

Known for her feisty comedic onscreen persona, Russell was nevertheless saddled in the late '40s and '50s with a string of hardly fun-loving roles centered on career and marriage in which her characters were often chided for choosing work over romance. As Bernard F. Dick's Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell notes "The main point is not Rosalind's eventual thawing out, which is a given; but rather how often she can be humiliated for being so unfeeling."

Russell herself was apparently not too far off from that onscreen ideal of the woman who sacrifices career for husband. According to Dick in Forever Mame, Russell's husband Frederick Brisson ironically wrote upon his wife's death, "Rosalind's ability to play a career woman who eventually succumbed to true love was consistent with her own life. She was a successful actress and an exemplary wife and mother."

Variety called A Woman of Distinction, "a loosely-tied grabbag of screwball and nonsensical doings about two warring-but-loving pedagogues. Sans much logic, the Rosalind Russell-Ray Milland teamwork is good."

The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it a "custard-pie farce," with Russell "behaving like Mabel Normand in a Keystone comedy. She is letting herself be sprayed with water, smeared with mud, tumbled backwards out of chairs and generally booted and battered. Anything for a laugh."

Director: Edward Buzzell
Producer: Buddy Adler
Screenplay: Charles Hoffman, Frank Tashlin based on the story by Hugo Butler and Ian McLellan Hunter
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Production Design: Robert Peterson
Music: Werner R. Heymann
Cast: Ray Milland (Alec Stevenson), Rosalind Russell (Susan Middlecott), Edmund Gwenn (Mark Middlecott), Janis Carter (Teddy Evans), Mary Jane Saunders (Louisa), Francis Lederer (Paul Simone).

by Felicia Feaster



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