The Housekeeper's Daughter

The Housekeeper's Daughter is a 1939 comedy film directed and produced by Hal Roach. The film stars Joan Bennett, Adolphe Menjou and John Hubbard. The screenplay was written by Rian James, Gordon Douglas, Jack Jevne and Claude Martin, based on a novel by Donald Henderson Clarke.

The Housekeeper's Daughter
Directed byHal Roach
Produced byHal Roach
Written byRian James
Gordon Douglas
Jack Jevne (uncredited)
Claude Martin (uncredited)
Based onnovel by Donald Henderson Clarke
StarringJoan Bennett
Adolphe Menjou
John Hubbard
Music byAmedeo De Filippi
Lucien Moraweck
CinematographyNorbert Brodine
Edited byWilliam H. Ziegler
Hal Roach Studios
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • October 26, 1939 (1939-10-26)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States

It was the film debut of Victor Mature.


Hilda is fed up with her life as a gun moll to gangster Floyd and visits her mother, housekeeper for the cultured Randall family. Professor Randall and his wife go on vacation, leaving behind sheltered son Robert to embark upon a career as a reporter at Hilda's urging. Soon after, Benny, a feeble-minded flower vendor, follows showgirl Gladys Fontaine when Floyd forces her to join him on his houseboat to take Hilda's place.

Fearing for Gladys' safety, Benny poisons a cup of coffee intended for the gangster, but Gladys drinks it instead. Benny watches in horror as Floyd tosses the dead girl's body into the river. The next morning, Robert reads about Gladys' death and attaches himself to hard-drinking, womanizing ace crime reporter Deakon Maxwell and his photographer, Ed O'Malley.

The trio go to police headquarters, where every bum on the waterfront at the time of the murder has been rounded up for questioning. Benny confesses to accidentally killing Gladys but is ridiculed and not believed. Robert takes pity on the little man and befriends him. After a night of drinking with Deakon and Ed at his expense, and learning from Benny that Gladys was thrown from the houseboat, the drunken Robert calls his editor and reports the details.

Waking up the next morning with no memory of the evening's events, Robert finds that his story has scooped the other newspapers and that he is being hailed as a true newspaperman. Robert's byline story leads Floyd to believe that the reporter has the goods on him, and he orders him eliminated.

Floyd's gang converges on the Randall house, where he finds and menaces Hilda. Benny makes more of his fatal coffee to protect her. Deakon and Ed are drunkenly shoot fireworks from the roof and, believing them to be gun shots, the gangsters open fire. As the mobsters begin dropping dead from Benny's poisoned coffee, the police come to the rescue and Robert wins the affections of Hilda.



The film was based on a novel published in 1938. The New York Times said it had a "good mystery" and "delightful love story."[1]

Film rights were bought by Hal Roach. Sigrid Gurie was discussed as a possible lead.[2] In December Jack Jevne was reportedly working on the script.[3]

Roach tried to get Lee Tracy in the film.[4] The role eventually went to Adolphe Menjou and Joan Bennett was given the female lead..[5]

By May Rian James was working on the script.[6]

It was the first of a five-picture deal between Hal Roach and United Artists.[7]

In June it was announced Roach would direct and Joan Bennett and Peggy Wood would star.[8]

Victor Mature was cast after being spotted in a stage play, To Quito and Back. He impressed Hal Roach so much that Roach cast Mature in the lead for One Million Years BC.[9]


The Los Angeles Times said it "bears the earmarks of a flicker from the early 1920s. Its characters are two dimensional its continuity hit and miss and its action fast and foolish."[10]

The film initially did not perform well at the box office. Roach and United Artists launched a new campaign which played up the more salacious aspects of the story, such as using ad lines like "the housekeeper's daughter did things she hadn't oughter." This approach annoyed Bennett who threatened to sue. Roach refused so Bennett wrote to 3,000 women's clubs arguing she had been maligned and asking them to boycott the film. The resulting publicity helped make the film a box office success.[11][12]

In 1957 it was announced Hal Roach, Jr. would remake the film as a musical.[13] However this never happened.


  1. Fiction in Lighter Vein By CHARLOTTE DEAN. New York Times 18 Sep 1938: 106.
  2. Baxter Looms as New Sherlock Holmes: Franciska Gaal Sought Rains-Bainter Click Exotic May 'Reform' Albert, Reagan Touted Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]13 Oct 1938: 10.
  3. Otto Kruger Remains in England for Film: Star to Play Doctor Scientist Cinema Hero Kent Taylor Signed Holt Feature Titled Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]03 Dec 1938: A7.
  4. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Goldwyn Seeking 'The Little Foxes' as a Vehicle for Barbara Stanwyck FIVE NEW PICTURES TODAY Distributing Firm to Handle French and English Films Here Is Formed Selznick Buy's "Ordeal" Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]22 Mar 1939: 27.
  5. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Lya Lys and Alan Hale to Be Seen in 'Boycott' at Warners--Basil Rathbone in 'Sherlock Holmes' More Work for Rathbone Coast Scripts Of Local Origin By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times ]18 Apr 1939: 27.
  6. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Warners Pick 'Skipper of the Ispahan' as a Vehicle for George Brent TWO NEW PICTURES TODAY 'Lucky Night' and 'East Side of Heaven,' With Bing Crosby, to Have Local Premieres Various Castings By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL New York Times 4 May 1939: 33.
  7. 32 Films for United Artists The Christian Science Monitor 8 May 1939: 17.
  8. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Roach Engages Peggy Wood for 'Housekeeper's Daughter'--Three New Film Openings Here Charlie Chan in Air Raid Coast Scripts Of Local Origin By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL New York Times 14 June 1939: 33.
  9. Tentin' Tonight, As Usual, Vic Will Be a Star: Rebellious Young Man Quits Business to Starve, but Wins The Washington Post 4 Sep 1939: 12.
  11. ON MATTERS SMALL AND LARGE IN HOLLYWOOD By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]24 Dec 1939: 87.
  12. A Woman's New York: Joan Bennett Objects to Being Featured as Risque in Film; Handicapped Heroine Marries By Alice Hughes. The Washington Post 23 Dec 1939: 13.
  13. MOVIELAND EVENTS: Boach Jr. Planning Musical Feature Los Angeles Times 2 Dec 1957: C12.

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