A Woman of Distinction (1950) Poster

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Typical '40s unmarried woman with no room for romance
blanche-211 April 2009
Major slapstick is the highlight of "A Woman of Distinction," a 1950 film starring Rosalind Russell, Ray Milland, Edmund Gwenn and Janis Carter. Russell has one of her uptight, cold women roles so often depicted in the '40s. You know the one, no room or time for romance until a man melts her down. The melter here is Ray Milland.

Russell is the dean of a girls' school in New England; Milland plays a visiting British astronomer. Will she succumb to his charms? Sure, after she beats him with her handbag, and she's sprayed with water, smeared with mud, and falls out of chairs. Wouldn't you? The laughs are all supposed to come from the slapstick; in truth, there's not too much of a script, and what's there is predictable and derivative. The cast is likable, and Russell proves she can do just about anything. In the end, it's not much of a movie.
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It's Business as Usual for Rosalind Russell, and everybody's in hers!
mark.waltz21 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This most delightful of romantic screwball comedies is one of my all-time favorites because even though it has Ms. Russell once again in tailored suits telling men what to do and fighting romance when it approaches her, it is filled with such a high level of fun. She's the dean of a woman's college with a daughter she claims is adopted. Ray Milland is a British professor from a men's college who comes to America to give her a memento from a soldier who died with her name on his heart. She's become a household name with her picture on the cover of Time Magazine, and the press is anxious to find out dirt on her, anything they can, especially something proving that the little girl is actually hers by birth, not adoption. Milland gets thrown into the mix and everything goes haywire.

Edmund Gwenn gives a delightfully lively performance as her living life to the fullest father, anxious to see his daughter tie the knot. It is hard to believe they are related, because as intellectual as he is, he knows there's much more to life than late night meetings with the board of directors, and he is bored with this board. Mary Jane Saunders ("Sorrowful Jones") proves again she is a natural child actress, not cloying or precocious, just delightful. Janis Carter gets some good lines as the snoopy reporter ("My what big ears your switchboard has!" she gleefully says to herself upon hearing gossipy operator Jean Willes reveal information about Russell) while the town wags. "Hello, Merle? This is Pearl!" Willes croons in a delightful segment of the beginning of a rumor mill that is bound to keep you in stitches.

There's plenty of slapstick too-Milland riding a bicycle which seems to come apart at the seams, and Russell riding in a student's souped-up race car in an attempt to get away from Milland. Then, there's the future movie musical "Mame", Lucille Ball, in a cameo as herself at the beginning. "Is it true that everybody in California sleeps under one blanket?", Milland asks her, getting the drollest of responses. It's a shame that Russell wasn't in this sequence to have the other movie "Auntie Mame" with her as well. Francis Lederer's professor character seems to have no point in being here other than to sulk about Russell's lack of interest in him. But director Edward Buzzell keeps things buzzin' here, resulting in a fast-moving comedy worthy of further discovery and repeat viewings.
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Crazy comedy with two great stars
mamalv23 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Ray Milland as an English astronomy professor is about to embark on a lecture tour, but has one job to do first. He must return a locket to the Dean of a college. The dean is played wonderfully well by Roz Russell. She is not interested in love or marriage until she meets Milland. The crazy twists and turns of the comedy are worth watching. Russell delivers some slapstick scenes which are not wasted on the audience. She was well paired with Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, and although this is not as fast paced as that, it has some truly funny parts between Milland and her. She is always wacking him over the head with her handbag because she thinks he dreamed up a romance just to get some press for his tour. Of course it was his press agent that did it. He tries to break through the outer shell but is finding it quite difficult. In the end she realizes that she needs him and runs to meet him at the train station. I always liked Ray Milland and I think his comic timing is great with Russell's help. Plus they look great together.
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A bit heavy on the slapstick, but lots of good fun
abcj-215 April 2011
A Woman of Distinction (1950) is a quirky romcom that is heavier on the comedy due to Rosalind Russell's willingness to throw herself out there for her audience. The "meet cute" between Russell and the still dashing and debonair Ray Milland is thwarted by their instant dislike and impatience with one another. She has an important job as the dean of a college. He is a lecturer on tour who happens to get mixed up with Russell and ultimately causes her job to be in jeopardy. Meanwhile, Edmund Gwenn, in a delightful role as Russell's father, plays matchmaker, thus making it harder to easily iron out the plot twists that intertwine the two main characters causing problems at every turn.

Russell rivals Luculle Ball in what she'll do for a laugh. It works and this is a cute movie that is pure escapist pleasure. It's not one of my very favorites, but I enjoy it enough to watch it whenever it comes on TCM.
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This could have been so much better.
MartinHafer2 November 2018
Rosalind Russell plays Dr. Susan Middlecott, a brilliant professor and dean of a college for women. However, her father (Edmund Gwenn) is concerned that she's all work and needs a man in her life. So, when the newspaper comes up with the incorrect notion that she's having a relationship with a professor (Ray Milland), the father makes the most of it...encouraging and pulling strings to try to get them together.

While Milland, Gwenn and Russell are all wonderful actors, here they are burdened with a bad script. The essential idea isn't bad (though some feminists today will balk at the notion that a woman needs a man), it is executed poorly. There are two main problems. Towards the end, the film relies too much on slapsticky sorts of laughs...with Rosalind on the receiving end again and again. Additionally, the whole relationship between the professors goes from hostile to head over heels so abruptly and unexpectedly that it made no sense at all. It's a shame...the film should have been a lot better.
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Today's icicle may be tomorrow's hot water
SimonJack8 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"A Woman of Distinction" is a very enjoyable comedy romance. Rosalind Russell, as Dean Susan Middlecott, is the consummate career professional woman of the mid-20th Century. Ray Milland, as Professor Alec Stevenson, is a renowned British scientist who is visiting New England for a series of astronomy talks. This is a few years after WW II, and both served in Europe during the war. Neither is looking for romance or marriage. Susan is adamant about not having or needing a man. To the point of being an iceberg, as her father, Professor Mark "J.M." Middlecott says (played by Edmund Gwenn). Alec isn't turned off to women or marriage – he just isn't actively pursuing a mate.

That's the setting, and the story of how these two come together makes for a wonderful plot. It's different from the type of comedy romance that was all too frequent during that era. It isn't a comedy of dialog alone, or of pratfalls, or of antics or crazy doings. It is a mix of all of those. The script has some witty and clever quips. The pratfalls are in the form of hilarious happenings to Susan and Alec, individually and together. The mishaps are all the more funny because of the proper and uppity social positions of the characters. And, a nice touch throughout the film, is their reactions. They seem to take them in stride and show their human side. The pacing of these incidents is perfect, with silly lines or very funny mishaps occurring at short intervals.

Through it all, does love bloom? Watch to see, and you won't be disappointed. All of the cast in this film give wonderful performances. And, there is a nice cast of supporting players beyond the three main roles. The setting has some scenes of elegant living, New England homes, and commuter train travel. About the only people I can imagine who wouldn't enjoy this flick would be misandrists, misogynists, those who hold political correctness as a god, and those who have no sense of humor.

It' a good enough movie to be part of my permanent film library. This film is a lot of fun throughout. Lucille Ball has a funny cameo appearance early in the film. Here are some funny lines to further whet one's appetite. They are all the more funny in the settings.

Susan, "Tea and toast! Is that all you ever eat?" Alec, "Blood rare!"

J.M., "Oh, Susan, dear, just a minute. You don't want to leave without your weapon."

Susan, "Well, why don't you get on?" Alec, "It's a girl's bike." Susan, "Try side saddle."

J.M., "It's too bad that two nice people, like you, who should get together, get together and then don't get together." Alec, "Well you see, your daughter isn't very get together-able. One might say she's a bit of an icicle." J.M., "You know what the Greek philosophers say about icicles? Today's icicle may be tomorrow's hot water."

Susan, "Oh, what beautiful flowers. Did you grow them?" Louisa (her five-year old daughter played by Mary Jane Saunders), "No, mommy. They grew themselves right outside."

Teddy (played by Janis Carter), "Education's a wonderful thing. No school should be without it."

Susan, "We're happy aren't we? Just the three of us?" Louisa, "I think we'd be happier if we adopted a husband."

Susan, "I'm not any older than any other woman my age."

J.M., "No, you look like a woman but that's where the resemblance ends. You talk like an encyclopedia. You think like a dictionary. You're, uh …"

Telephone operator, "Hello, Earl, this is Pearl. Hello, Merle, this is Pearl."
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Highly amusing!
JohnHowardReid1 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Producer: Buddy Adler. Copyright 16 February 1950 by Columbia Pictures Corp. New York opening at the Radio City Music Hall: 16 March 1950 (ran 2 weeks). U.S. release: April 1950. U.K. release: 17 July 1950. Australian release: 29 September 1950. 7,721 feet. 85 minutes.

SYNOPSIS: Gossip columnists couple a hard-headed dean with a visiting professor of astronomy.

PRINCIPAL MIRACLE: Who said the screwball romantic comedy was exterminated by WW2 and had no innings after 1945?

COMMENT: A broadly acted - all the players are in excellent form - and highly amusing farce. It's a screwball comedy in fact, attractively photographed, and boasting equally A-1 production values, and of course top technical credits.

The polished script contrives a whole raft of entertaining twists to flesh out a basically simple plot of romantic chase and entanglements. And no-one can put down an eager Romeo as effectively as Rosalind Russell, the Gladys Cooper of the younger set.

Feminists will hate the movie of course. Even more importantly, it was dismissed by the critics. Hence the fact that the film is little-known outside a devoted circle of Rosalind Russell and Ray Milland fans.

Aside from Mary Jane Saunders, an amateurish child if ever there was one, the saviors of this film's slight story are the actors. Spirited playing from the principals and from a fine cast of support artists, including Harry Tyler as a photographer and Lucille Ball as herself, make the proceedings seem twice as bright as they deserve to be. Astute direction and ingratiating photography help too.
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