Cast & Crew
Olivia De Havilland
Margaret Richards, the willful daughter of oil magnate Ben Richards, storms out of the house when her family insists that she accompany them to Newport for the summer. Taking the car belonging to her father's valet, she is peeved to discover that it is low on gas and pulls into the nearest gas station. After the attendant, Bill Davis, fills the tank, Margaret tries to charge the gas to her father's account. Because he does not know who she is, Bill refuses her demands, offering to let her work off her debt by making the beds in the attached motel. Margaret is outraged by this suggestion but eventually is forced to comply. She vows revenge on Bill for this insult, asking her father, who is on the board of the oil company that owns the station, to have Bill fired. When her father hears the story, he agrees with Bill's actions and suggests that she get even by herself. In the meantime, Richards busily makes bets with his valet about his proficiency in various sports. Now pretending to be her family's maid, Margaret returns to the station and apologizes. She makes a date with Bill, who tells her that he needs financial support for his plan for a chain of auto courts. Margaret sees her opportunity and sends him to see her father. Richards, in turn, sends Bill over to see his friend, Atwater. When Atwater will not listen to Bill's proposal, Bill returns to Richards, who finally discovers that Margaret is behind the whole thing. After Bill learns that Margaret has been lying about her identity, he angrily lectures her, her father and Atwater. Once Bill is gone, Atwater and Richards decide that he had a good idea after all and fight over the plans. Eventually they agree to be partners and pay Bill a big fee to act as the architect. Margaret and Bill marry.
Olivia De Havilland
Leo F. Forbstein
Jack L. Warner
Hard to Get
The Busby Berkeley musicals that had made Powell a star were fading in popularity by 1938, but Warner Bros. had a hard time envisioning the genre's top male star doing anything else. When Powell fought for more dramatic roles, their response was to put him into fluff like Hard to Get. The film pitted gas station owner Powell against spoiled heiress Olivia de Havilland, who has to work as a maid at his motor inn when she has no cash to pay for the gas she just pumped. For revenge, she tries to thwart his plans to get her father (Charles Winninger) to back his proposal for a chain of motels. Somehow, their animosity turns to love in time for the fade out. And just to keep the fans happy, the studio shoehorned two songs into the plot. "There's a Sunny Side to Every Situation" was a mere throwaway, with Powell only singing a bit of it. But for "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," they created a romantic scene with the star rowing de Havilland on a lake during a brief respite from their quarreling. That and the disguises Powell dons to get in to see her father (including a brief turn in drag) provided the most memorable parts of his performance.
The film couldn't have been much of a thrill for de Havilland either. Although she had achieved stardom quickly at Warner Bros. when she was cast opposite Errol Flynn in Captain Blood (1935), only her fourth film, her dreams of becoming a dramatic star were far from coming true. The flighty heiress was a role she had already played twice before, in 1937's It's Love I'm After and the film made just before Hard to Get, Four's a Crowd (1938). Her only shot at heavy drama to that point had come as the female lead in Anthony Adverse (1936), a film practically stolen by villains Claude Rains and Gale Sondergaard.
Hard to Get was almost stolen, too, by Winninger. A vaudeville star since childhood, Winninger focused on movies almost exclusively in his forties with the coming of sound. He was most often cast as lovable old men like Cap'n Andy in Show Boat (1936), a role he had originated on Broadway. With impeccable comic timing and a background as a song and dance man, he excelled at physical comedy, as in this film. One of the running gags involves his devotion to athletics, which leads him to force his valet (Melville Cooper) into a series of slapstick boxing, fencing and wrestling matches.
At least Powell got a hit song out of the proceedings, though as was the case at the time, he didn't get to make the popular commercial recording of it. Instead, Bing Crosby released a version that stayed in the top ten for nine weeks, three of them at number one (at one point it was unseated by "Jeepers Creepers," another song Mercer had written for Dick Powell). Tommy Dorsey's orchestra also recorded the song successfully, while later versions were released by Perry Como in the late '40s, Bobby Darren in 1961 and The Dave Clark Five in 1967.
Powell's disappointment in not getting a shot at more serious roles was compounded by the failure of Hard to Get at the box office. Audiences may have been tired of musicals at the time, but they also didn't want to see the star in anything else. He had more success with his final two films at Warner Bros., Going Places (1938) and Naughty But Nice (1939), both of them musicals with songs by Warren and Mercer. At that point, he left the studio in search of more variety, a goal he finally achieved at RKO in the late '40s when he finally shed his boy singer image to build a new career as a tortured film noir hero.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: Ray Enright
Screenplay: Jerry Wald, Maurice Leo, Richard Macaulay, Wally Klein, Joseph Schrank
Based on the story "Classified" by Stephen Morehouse Avery
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Music: Leo F. Forbstein
Principal Cast: Dick Powell (Bill Davis), Olivia de Havilland (Margaret Richards), Charles Winninger (Benjamin Richards), Allen Jenkins (Roscoe), Bonita Granville (Connie Richards), Melville Cooper (John Case), Isabel Jeans (Henrietta Richards), Grady Sutton (Stanley Potter), Thurston Hall (John Atwater), Penny Singleton (Hattie), Irving Bacon (Gas Station Attendant), Jimmy Conlin (Dour Diner).
by Frank Miller
Hard to Get
The film's working titles were Head over Heels, Hot Heiress and For Lovers Only.