Hard to Get (1938 film)

Hard to Get is a 1938 American romantic comedy film directed by Ray Enright and starring Dick Powell and Olivia de Havilland.[1] Written by Jerry Wald, Maurice Leo, and Richard Macaulay, the film is about a spoiled young heiress who tries to charge some gasoline at an auto court and is forced by the attendant to work out her bill by making beds and cleaning rooms. Resolving to get even, she pretends to have forgiven him, and then sends him to her father to get financing for his plan to develop a string of auto courts across the country, knowing he will only be wasting his time. Hard to Get was released by Warner Bros. Pictures in the United States on November 5, 1938.[2]

Hard to Get
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRay Enright
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
  • Wally Kline
  • Joseph Schrank
Based onStuffed Shirt
1932 story in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan
by Stephen Morehouse Avery
Music byHeinz Eric Roemheld
CinematographyCharles Rosher
Edited byThomas Richards
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • November 5, 1938 (1938-11-05) (USA)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States


New York oil magnate Ben Richards (Charles Winninger) and his family are preparing to leave for Newport for their summer vacation. His spoiled willful daughter Margaret (Olivia de Havilland) refuses to go and storms out of the house, borrowing a car belonging to her father's valet. On the road she notices the car is low on gas and stops at an auto court gas station. The attendant, Bill Davis (Dick Powell), fills up the tank and requests the $3.50 payment. With no money on her, Margaret tries to charge the amount to her father's account, but Bill refuses, not knowing who she is. Instead, he offers to let her work off her debt by making the beds and cleaning the rooms at the auto court motel. Outraged by this suggestion, Margaret attempts to drive off, but backs into a truck preventing her from leaving. When a police officer arrives, Margaret is forced to comply with Bill's offer, and she spends the next few hours making beds and cleaning rooms.

Margaret returns home vowing revenge on Bill for his treatment of her. At first she asks her father—who is on the board of the oil company that owns the station—to have Bill fired. After listening to her story, however, her father agrees with the way Bill handled the issue and tells her she'll have to find her own way of getting her revenge. The next day, Margaret returns to the auto court gas station and apologizes to Bill, pretending to have forgiven him. Attracted to the beautiful heiress, who now pretends to be her family's maid "Maggie", Bill asks her on a date and she accepts.

That night, Bill sneaks them into a banquet for a free dinner, then takes her up to the Empire State Building, where he tells her about his dream of building a string of auto courts across the country. Margaret tells him she thinks it's a great idea and sends him to her father to get financing for his plan—even providing him her father's old nickname "Spouter" so the secretaries will think he is one of Ben's old friends. Margaret knows that when her father sees that Bill used the nickname to pretend he was an old friend, he will make his life miserable.

As Margaret planned, Bill is given the runaround by Ben and his business associate Atwater—neither of whom know that Margaret is behind the whole thing. When Ben discovers that his daughter planned the revenge pretending to be his maid, he invites Bill over to dinner for some fun at their expense. Maggie turns the tables by inducing the real maid to masquerade as Ben's daughter. Still believing that Ben wants to help him, Bill sneaks into a party given by Atwater where he finally discovers that Margaret, Ben, and Atwater have been making a fool of him. After telling them all off, Bill storms out of the party, not knowing that Margaret has fallen in love with him.

Realizing that Bill's national auto court plan has great potential, Ben and Atwater fight over who will finance the project. They converge on the high-rise construction site where Bill is now working and agree to be partners and pay Bill a substantial fee to serve as their architect. Bill accepts the offer. Sometime later, Margaret visits Bill at one of the newly built auto courts seeking forgiveness for what she's done. Ben soon arrives with a justice of the peace who is prepared to marry them. After Ben's wife arrives trying to prevent the wedding, Bill finally agrees to marry Margaret.



  • "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" (Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer) played during the opening and closing credits, sung by Dick Powell
  • "There's a Sunny Side to Every Situation" (Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer) sung a cappella by Dick Powell
  • "Sonny Boy" (Ray Henderson, Buddy G. DeSylva, and Lew Brown) played by the band at Atwater's and sung by Dick Powell in blackface
  • "Love Is Where You Find It" (Harry Warren) played at the banquet when Bill tells Maggie of his plans
  • "Put That Down in Writing" (Harry Warren) played at the Atwater party when Bill gets wise to Maggie[3]


"You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" was nominated for the American Film Institute's 2004 list AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs.[4]


  1. "Hard to Get (1938)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
  2. "Hard to Get (1938)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
  3. "Soundtracks for Hard to Get". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
  4. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-30.

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