Rafter Romance (1933)

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What do you do when you can’t afford to keep paying your rent in New York City? Let your landlord set you up to share with a stranger, of course!

Mary Carroll (Ginger Rogers) moved to New York City from upstate in hopes of finding a career, but she’s had no luck and the money is running out. She’s months behind on her rent – so far behind that it would be nearly impossible for her to come up with the money.

But rather than put her out on the street, landlord Max Eckbaum (George Sidney) comes up with a plan. Another tenant, Jack Bacon (Norman Foster) lives in the attic loft and is also months behind on rent. Jack is an aspiring artist who works a job on the night shift. Mary has taken a job as a telemarketer for a refrigerator company, and works during the day. Eckbaum moves Mary into Jack’s loft, telling Jack to use the apartment from 8 am to 8 pm, while Mary can use it from 8 pm to 8 am.

Jack and Mary never see each other, but after Mary moves in they start to hate each other pretty quickly. They conduct a series of pranks to get back at each other, and continue not to meet even though they technically live together.

Things get complicated when Mary and Jack meet out of the apartment, don’t realize who the other is, and begin to fall for each other. Meanwhile, Mary deals with the advances of her persistent boss, Mr. Hubbell (Robert Benchley), and Jack is pursued by a rich cougar, Elise Peabody Willington Smith (Laura Hope Crews).

This 1933 RKO romantic comedy, Rafter Romance, was directed by William A. Seiter and is based on the novel by John Wells. RKO originally cast Joel McCrea and Dorothy Jordan in the lead roles, then replaced them with Ginger Rogers and Lew Ayres before finally settling on Norman Foster as Ginger’s love interest. This is the second of three pairings of Foster and Rogers, the first being 1930’s Young Man of Manhattan.

Rogers and Foster do make a great screen pair. Tension is built between the two before they even realize that they’re living with each other. They’re falling for each other outside of the home, while leaving each other nasty notes and mean-spirited surprises inside the loft.

The script is great, and the contrast between these interactions very funny, but with less capable actors on board it could have fallen flat. Luckily, Rogers and Foster not only have great chemistry but are able to portray both sides of the relationship perfectly. They’re ultra-cute together when they need to be and full of witty, banter-y tension at other times.

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These two leads are just as great individually as they are together – Ginger in particular. She has all of her usual magnetic screen presence here. Her character is relatable to both the film’s original audiences and modern audiences: a young girl trying to make her dreams happen, but struggling greatly along the way. The character itself is written to endear the audience, and Ginger just increases Mary’s appeal. She was great at playing tough, determined working girls in a way that was believable.

The side characters of Rafter Romance are great as well. Mr. Eckbaum is a very good kickstarter for the story, because his attic-sharing plan lets the viewer know right from the beginning that trouble and conflict will soon be brewing. This set-up makes you want to keep watching. And then there are Mary and Jack’s older, wealthier suitors, who are both hilarious. Elise has a very jealous edge and is always trying to come up with ways to get Jack to run away with her. Hubbell is the type of extremely pushy authority figure we’d all hate to have chasing after us.

[Spoilers are a-comin’] The story itself is quite predictable, though that doesn’t distract from the film’s fun. Eventually Mary and Jack find out that they’ve been living together, and can’t decide whether they want to continue falling in love or continue despising each other. You can already tell where this is going. The ending is super cute, and happy for all (except maybe Elise and Hubbell), in typical Hollywood fashion. [Spoilers are a-endin’]

Rafter Romance is a delightful film with great characters, solid performances and lots of laughs. It definitely lives up to its potential, despite the fact that the viewer can see where the story is headed from the beginning. The score: 4/5

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