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Romance in Manhattan
Romance in Manhattan (1935)
  • Director:
    Stephen Roberts
  • Category:
  • Writer:
    Jane Murfin,Edward Kaufman
  • Cast:
    Francis Lederer,Ginger Rogers,Arthur Hohl
  • Time:
    1h 17min
  • Year:
Czech immigrant Karel Novak fulfills his dream of coming to America only to learn at Ellis Island the entrance fee has been raised from $50 to $200. Unable to pay, he is put on a ship going back to Holland, but jumps off, swimming to Manhattan, and losing his wallet on shore. He is elated at what he sees, the skyscrapers, the automobiles and the opulence. While stealing doughnuts from a lunch table for girls rehearsing for a show, he befriends 19-year-old chorus girl, Sylvia Dennis, who then lets him sleep on the roof of her apartment building. Her young brother, Frank, gets him a job selling newspapers and he gradually works up into driving a cab. Meanwhile, romance blossoms, and when authorities threaten to send Frank to a young boys' home until Sylvia gets married, Karel proposes and Sylvia accepts. But the spectre of his illegal status causes him to see a lawyer about becoming a citizen. He unknowingly goes to shyster Halsey J. Pander, who turns him in for the money.
Complete credited cast:
Francis Lederer Francis Lederer - Karel Novak
Ginger Rogers Ginger Rogers - Sylvia Dennis
Arthur Hohl Arthur Hohl - Halsey J. Pander
Jimmy Butler Jimmy Butler - Frank Dennis
J. Farrell MacDonald J. Farrell MacDonald - Officer Murphy
Helen Ware Helen Ware - Miss Anthrop
Eily Malyon Eily Malyon - Miss Evans
Lillian Harmer Lillian Harmer - Mrs. Schultz
Donald Meek Donald Meek - Minister
Sidney Toler Sidney Toler - Police Sergeant
Oscar Apfel Oscar Apfel - The Judge
Reginald Barlow Reginald Barlow - Customs Inspector
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Carmen Gould Carmen Gould

Romance in Manhattan (1935)

Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams is in studio records/casting call lists as a cast member, but he did not appear or was not identifiable in the movie.

This delightful work details the struggle of a Czech illegal immigrant, Karel Novak (Francis Lederer), to remain in the United States during the Depression, with a sparkling script limning the cultural impact of New York City upon the newcomer. Stephen Roberts directs with his customary skill in one of his final films (he died shortly after at the age of 40) and avoids both the hyperbolic and hypocritical, particularly significant when we are given the insincerity which marks the current immigration debate with its rough moral equivalence. The Bohemian-born Lederer's strong performance is quite probably his best, with an excellent and witty scenario providing the cast, which includes many of RKO's many contract players, an opportunity to create characterizations that are well-defined. Ginger Rogers nicely portrays Lederer's love interest and there is excellent acting from Sidney Toler and J. Farrell MacDonald as two of a contingent of New York's Finest (all Irish, of course) whose assistance is crucial to the process of bringing the complicated events to a suitable climax. Superlative editing by Jack Hively must be recognized as must the top-flight camera-work of Nick Musuraca, each contributing mightily to a film which should be better known.
Wonderful heartfelt and humane, this superb RKO programmer from 1935 shows just how far America and its political friends have strayed from what it fair and decent. Probably a B+ feature in its day (I personally hope it was more) ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN as made by what possibly was craftsman Euro escapees keen to work in the US film industry, clearly shows that with a reasonable RKO budget, anyone deserves a break and a true chance at love in a new country. A lovely mature film with great ideals and kindness with excellent production values and genuine affection for one man's plight, this truly great (small) film has its heart exactly right and is a mini major on the RKO schedule that might have affected the senses of millions in its day. A depression romance with a good mind to show the masses what is genuinely 'right' ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN shows what good manners and commonsense can prove, simply. The RKO cinema chain of its day with 3000 seat movie palaces across the USA and elsewhere would have allowed this simple but effective genuine film to reach it's intended good mannered suburban and country audiences, thus genuinely allowing the very Man this film is about to be a contributing cog in the great wheel of American capitalism and success so fouled today. In Australia where I live, we now have a nationwide TV channel that shows these RKO films in pristine DVD clarity...in every meaning of that statement. This is a good film: in every imaginable way. This film is actually about how real people feel. A real find and unjustly neglected...except in Australia!
ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN (1935) is an immigrant story. Karel Novak (Francis Lederer) comes to America -- "The Land of Opportunity" -- with dreams of becoming a millionaire. He intends to work hard and has already learned to speak English. Right off the boat, he seems an ideal candidate for entry into the country. But the money he's saved is no longer enough to satisfy the immigration fee, which has risen from fifty to two hundred dollars. And so Karel must be sent back to Czechoslovakia, where he may never save enough money for a return trip to the States. Desperate, Karel escapes his deportation and tries to live the American Dream as an illegal alien in New York City.

Francis Lederer is supremely likable as Karel Novak, charming and optimistic, though naïve. Karel sees America as the land of his dreams, a place that could well be Heaven. He gets giddy with excitement just seeing the Manhattan skyline lit up at night. Unfortunately Karel enters an America that is mired in a Depression, and millionaires -- and jobs, for that matter -- are hard to come by.

Ginger Rogers plays Sylvia, a chorus girl who lives with her little brother, a paper boy when he's not in school (or vice versa). The two earn what they can and take care of each other in these tough times. Sylvia comes to Karel's aid when he's penniless and homeless and soon he's like a member of the family. Sylvia's brother gets Karel a job selling newspapers and Sylvia lets him sleep on the roof of their apartment building. After a while Karel gets a job driving a taxi and starts saving up money to square things with the immigration office. But when Sylvia loses her job, Karel dips into his savings to help out and soon he's back where he started.

In the meantime Karel and Sylvia fall in love. And really who can blame them? But Karel's status as an illegal immigrant is going to come back to haunt him and he knows it. And while Karel's struggling with that, Sylvia's trying to keep her brother from being taken away from her and placed in an orphan asylum.

ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN is a winner and I don't know how it's slipped under the radar. Francis Lederer and Ginger Rogers are a lovable pair and the film's got Depression-era drama around every corner. Our poor heroes are handed tough break after tough break, just trying to make a go of the "American Dream", but they take each blow on the chin, determined to get by somehow. Karel, the eternal optimist, faces adversity with a smile. It's a cute love story wrapped inside a social drama, and a pleasant watch the whole way through.

The question posed at the climax of the film is whether Karel Novak, being a hard-working and respectable young man, deserves any breaks from the immigration office. Sure, he's in the country illegally, but can something be worked out for the poor guy? It's an ethical problem that can be seen as black and white or as shades of gray. The film makes its decision on the matter and I won't spoil it.
This gem should rightly be considered one of the era's best comedies. It's touching, funny, and filled with hope. Lederer is perfect as the young immigrant, in love with the ideals of America during the Great Depression. Rogers, only one year out of the chorus, is outstanding. While the sets are a bit too phony, and the traveling in traffic scenes are too obviously fake, the story, the acting, and the directing are uniformly outstanding.
I have seen over 2,000 classic films in the last 6 years, and somehow I let this one slip by me. It is rare that I uncover a new classic film favorite, but I did with this film.

"Romance in Manhattan" works so well thanks to the wonderful performances by Ginger Rogers and especially Francis Lederer. I would have loved to see him hit stardom, but he had a long career and lived 100 years despite not becoming a household name. Lederer is so charismatic and handsome in this film with such an exuberant spirit. A young Ginger Rogers is lovely, has great chemistry with Lederer, and is a loving sister.

There are two subplots, but this is mostly about a man coming to America to live the "American Dream" which he does while finding romance along with it. If that appeals to you, then I highly recommend this delightful little gem.
Honestly, I never really cared for the roles Francis Lederer played, until I watched this film. He is just perfect as the optimistic Czech immigrant, Karel Novak, who is so glad to be landing in America. The Great Depression doesn't scare him, he's willing to do anything and figures he can triumph over any adversity. Fate is about to hand him that chance as he faces just about every adversity an immigrant can face. First he arrives in New York with less than the money required to get in - he thought it was fifty dollars, instead it is two hundred. Instead of being deported, he jumps out of the window of the cabin he is confined in and gets ashore before he can be discovered missing.

Hungry and broke, Karel is befriended by chorine Sylvia (Ginger Rogers), when she spots him chowing down on the donuts and coffee that she and the other girls in the show were breakfasting on. Although not dismal, Sylvia is realistic about how hard times are. An orphan and only 19 herself, Sylvia is taking care of a younger brother, Frank, who is going to be put in an orphanage if he skips school again. Frank is not skipping school to hang out with some local gang though, he just wants to work selling more papers to help out his big sister whom he can see is working so hard to support them both. Karel helps Sylvia see life a bit differently, through the eyes of an immigrant who is so happy to be in bustling New York where he believes anybody can become a millionaire.

So Frank, Sylvia, and Karel become a real threesome. Karel sells papers during the day, then gets a job as a taxi driver, and things are looking up. He's hoping to get the two hundred dollars together to give the immigration people before they catch up to him, and his bank balance is rising. But then everything begins to go wrong. There is a taxi strike and Karel is forced off the job with no pay while the strike drags on. The show Sylvia was dancing in closes, and Karel offers to help out and plunders his entire bank account covering living costs. Finally, Frank skips school AGAIN to sell papers and help out, but this time he is going to be sent to the orphanage. Worst of all a crooked lawyer plays on Karel's lack of knowledge of the law and sells out Karel to the immigration people, so he is facing deportation again.

So how is this not the most depressing film ever? Because it is a love story - that of two people trying to make it in New York in slim times - Karel and Sylvia - slowly and convincingly falling in love and having great chemistry together. It's also the story of an unconventional family unit of three - Karel, Sylvia, and Frank - who would do anything for one another. I'll let you watch and see how this all works out.

It's a heartwarming tale of a different New York from decades ago - one full of boarding houses, cops on the beat who knew everyone in the neighborhood, when donuts and coffee were considered a hearty breakfast, and people largely had good intentions. It's one of my sentimental favorites.
Ginger Rogers and Francis Lederer have "Romance in Manhattan" in this 1935 film directed by Stephen Roberts. The movie also features Jimmy Butler, Sidney Toler, and Donald Meek.

The handsome Lederer plays Karel Novak, an immigrant to the U.S. who is sent back as soon as he arrives because he doesn't have the required $200. He thought he only needed $50. On the return ship to his native Czechoslovakia, he jumps ship, but loses his wallet in the process. Fortunately he meets a chorus girl, Sylvia, when he's trying to steal food. He winds up sleeping on the roof of the apartment building where Sylvia lives with her brother Frankie (Butler). Frankie helps Karel get a job delivering newspapers. Later on, Karel becomes a cab driver, all with the goal of earning the necessary $200 so he can stay in America.

What a wonderful movie, very heartwarming, with fine performances, especially by Lederer. Irving Thalberg intended to make Lederer a huge star in the U.S., but he died, and it didn't happen. Nevertheless, the European star made some fine films both in Europe and here, moved into television, started an acting school, and taught acting until he died at age 100. When he worked with Louise Brooks in Die Büchse der Pandora in 1929, he knew no English, and Brooks knew no German. Here he gives a witty, charming and sincere performance as Karel.

Ginger Rogers looks beautiful as Sylvia - she was 24 - and gives an excellent performance, sharing good chemistry with both Lederer and Butler.

Very sweet film, well directed, not cloying or overly sentimental. Loved it.
Francis Lederer and Ginger Rogers star in this pleasant romantic comedy about an illegal Czech immigrant and a chorus girl who solve each other's problems during the Great Depression.

Poor Lederer I feel sorry for him because I pictured my own grandparents in the same situation. He's spent every last cent on a ticket to America and then finds that the entry fee is now $200.00 instead of $50.00. I'd probably do what he did, jump ship before it sailed back and enter illegally.

Still if Lederer hadn't met Rogers outside the theater she was working at and she hadn't felt sorry for him he would still have been in a fix. She's barely making ends meet supporting herself and her little brother Jimmy Butler. Then her show closes.

Not to worry it all works out in the end I don't think you have to strain the gray cells too much to figure out how it is done.

During the film Lederer mentions how sick he was during the voyage. My maternal grandmother arrived here before World War I and she was in steerage and was also constantly seasick. The voyage so traumatized her that you could not get her into a rowboat after that. I know exactly how Lederer was feeling.

Some friendly beat cops J. Farrell MacDonald and his sergeant Sidney Toler solve all their problems and take care of a shyster lawyer played by Arthur Hohl who was looking to cash in on Lederer's problems.

Immigration issues in today's America make this film have a returned relevancy. And it's a nice romantic comedy.
The delightful Francis Lederer shines in this unique drama which salutes the European immigrant in this late depression era drama that shows how determination and fortitude can help goals be achieved. In the case of Mr. Lederer, his Czech background left him desperate to come to America, and he has been saving money for years as well as learning English so he could make the journey. But upon arriving at Ellis Island, he finds out that the regulations for admittance have changed and he is told he will be sent back. This won't do, however, and at his first opportunity, Lederer does a dive out of his port hole, being fished out on the lower east side of Manhattan and losing his wallet.

Down on his luck, Lederer befriends a struggling chorus girl (the lovely Ginger Rogers) who helps him out and when he gets a job as a taxi driver, he returns the favor. He is determined to help her keep custody of her troubled younger brother who is always skipping school and being threatened with being put into an institution. Lederer wants to make sure she gets to keep custody so he of course proposes which leads to his identity being discovered and the deportation to go forward. Of course, if you're an illegal immigrant threatened with deportation, it helps to have a big-hearted Irish cop on your side, and here, that is the lovable J. Farrell MacDonald who steals every scene that he is in.

This really takes the viewer inside the life of a struggling immigrant, and here the hero doesn't achieve success overnight or become a mobster. He's a very honest sort who believes in hard work, and even faces threats of violence when he reluctantly becomes a scab by driving a cab during his company's taxi driver strike. When he becomes the victim of a shady lawyer, it is his integrity which gets the police force together to help him out, something I don't think you could see in the current day NYPD where red tape has so much glue on it, it sticks without possibility of removal.

Ginger Rogers' chorus girl isn't the wise-cracking toughy of "42nd Street" or "Gold Diggers of 1933". She, too, is an honest sort, coming across a starving Lederer stealing from the stash of food left out for the chorus girl's breaks. Jimmy Butler is memorable as her little brother, always charming even when getting into trouble, and one who definitely doesn't deserve the fate planned for him by the two uppity do-gooders (Helen Ware and Eily Malyon) determined to take him away from Rogers' care. This is a surprisingly sweet and affectionate tale of New York during one of its toughest times in history that shows that underneath all that hardness at that time did exist a big heart of gold.
This is an interesting film in that the leading man, Francis Lederer, actually plays a Czech--and he was, indeed, from this country. For Hollywood, this is very unusual! The film begins with Lederer arriving in America. However, because he doesn't have enough money (they required a minimum per person at the time to ensure that they'd have enough to get started), they deport him back to his homeland. But, as the boat left the harbor, he jumps overboard--much like the plot from "The Glass Wall" and it's an interesting coincidence that I'd see the two films only a short time apart. He assumes he'll just be able to get a job--but it is the middle of the Depression.

Like "The Glass Wall", the illegal immigrant soon meets a nice lady who feels sorry for him--in this case, Ginger Rogers. She helps him get a job selling newspapers as well as a temporary place to sleep. Will the love that's blossoming between the two come to anything? Can Lederer legally stay in America? Tune in and see.

Overall, it's a decent little film, though the chemistry between Lederer and Rogers seems less than convincing. However, despite this, the ending is pretty cute to watch--even if it's a tiny bit silly. Worth seeing, but not a must-see film.
A sensitive and skillful performance by Francis Lederer makes this minor film enjoyable enough to sit through. He plays a Czech immigrant who escapes deportation back to his native land by jumping ship, ending up penniless but full of spirit on the bustling streets of New York City. Soon he encounters a kindly chorus girl (Ginger Rogers) who takes him home and with the help of her 11-year-old brother helps him find work. The dialogue is peppered with lines about the state of the economy in 1934, an understanding of how difficult it was to find a job and even wry commentary on New Deal federal policies (someone on the writing team had to have been a Republican). Otherwise, the impact thins as the plot thickens. We are supposed to believe, in line with the moral code of movies at that time, that Lederer willingly agrees to sleep on the roof of Rogers's apartment building for months, coming inside to the stairs only when it rains. Somehow the summery weather never seems to change even though a significant stretch of time evidently passes during which he rises from newspaper seller to taxi driver (even "scabbing" during a strike), sporting an ever-improving wardrobe, savings account and self-confidence. To top it all off, he is helped out of legal snags relating to his immigration status (and marriage to Rogers) by the convenient fact that Rogers just happens to be very good friends with a sweet Irish cop who has connections in the municipal power structure; call it corruption for good ends.

Lederer's progress through the streets of New York City is represented by crudely staged actions in front of rear projections. Interior scenes, however, are handled imaginatively and catch the eye. Ginger Rogers is only secondary here, but when you see how many films she cranked out during this period, you have to allow her some slack. Lederer gets top billing and deserves it.
My family immigrated at a time when America was the land of opportunity. The "Protestant Work Ethic" (they were Roman Catholic) was that any work that provided for one's Family was "holy" or "honorable." Anyone could work hard and dream big. This sustained them in the Great Depression where self sacrifice and American rugged individualism triumphed. This movie, like so many of the classics, remind us of what a great country America was, in an era of hard times. The success story of love and hard work is touching in spite of its overuse. This movie works.

The immigrants came to work and assimilate. They took the oath of citizenship, eschewed welfare and prevailed. The setting of the underdog works here.

Another feel good oldie to enjoy!
Francis Lederer (Karel Novak), Ginger Rogers (Sylvia Dennis), Arthur Hohl (Pander), Jimmy Butler (Frank Dennis), J. Farrell MacDonald (Murph), Lillian Harmer (Mrs Schultz, the landlady), Helen Ware (Miss Anthrop), Eily Malyon (Miss Evans), Donald Meek (minister), Sidney Toler (police sergeant), Oscar Apfel (judge), Reginald Barlow, Wade Boteler, Frank Sheridan (customs inspectors), Spencer Charters (license clerk), Andy Clyde (liquor store owner), James Donlan (cab manager), Paul Hurst (Joe, a policeman), Harold Goodwin (doctor at police station), Jack Pennick (cab driver), Edward Le Saint (customs official), Irving Bacon (counterman), Dick Curtis, Max Wagner, Richard Alexander, Billy Dooley (men at East River), Christian Rub (joyful immigrant on ship).

Director: STEPHEN ROBERTS. Screenplay: Jane Murfin, Edward Kaufman. Story: Don Hartman, Norman Krasna. Photography: Nicholas Musuraca. Film editor: Jack Hively. Art directors: Van Nest Polglase and Charles M. Kirk. Make-up: Mel Berns. Special effects: Vernon L. Walker. Miniatures: Don Jahraus. Music director: Al Colombo. Research: Elizabeth McGaffey. Stills: John Miehle. Assistant director: Dewey Starkey. Sound recording: John E. Tribby. Producer: Pandro S. Berman.

Copyright 11 January 1935 by RKO Radio Pictures. New York opening at the Radio City Music Hall: 17 January 1935 (ran only one week). U.S. release: 18 January 1935. Australian release: 27 March 1935. 78 minutes.

SYNOPSIS: A fairy tale about an illegal immigrant (Lederer), a kind- heart-ed chorus girl (Rogers) and her orphaned kid brother (Butler).

COMMENT: A flag-waving romance that strains credulity to breaking point and then finally snaps altogether in a slapstick-style climax that fades out not on the principals, but on minor character player Donald Meek who has just entered the picture at this point!

Francis Lederer makes a somewhat weak hero, but Ginger Rogers looks great (despite some unattractive costumes and odd eyebrow make-up).

A goodly supply of our favorite support actors also help out. And, breaking the Hollywood mold, Jimmy Butler presents as quite a personable kid.
Francis Lederer came as close as he would ever get to being a genuine star with his touching performance in ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN. Ginger Rogers, after taking a long weekend off following completion of THE GAY Divorcée, was about to become world famous as a musical comedy star to an extent that has yet entirely to die out. Her role as Sylvia was fairly uncharacteristic for her: entirely sympathetic, straightforward, lovable without any edges. There was no antagonism turning into affection this time around. Such conflict wasn't needed. The plot was about Karel Novak (Lederer) and his struggles to make a life in America. The Depression is all over the movie. So is human charity. It's a combination common to 1930s Hollywood and inevitably described as 'Capra-esque'. Had he been involved, this sweet, lovely film would have gone down as one of Capra's better efforts.

Steven Roberts was the actual director. If he hadn't died very young (not long after this film though it wasn't his last. It wasn't even his last with Ginger Rogers) I believe he would have been better remembered. He keeps ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN moving, keeps it simple and fresh, and except for the usual sloppy rear view projection shots so common to the era provides ROMANCE with a form to match its subject without ever drawing undue attention towards his efforts.

Given a raw deal, a would-be immigrant jumps ship rather than allowing himself to be deported, is befriended by a chorus girl who has plenty of problems of her own, and tries to build a life with her. That provides plenty of scope for a 73 minute programmer that remains unburdened by any real subplots (the custody battle for Sylvia's brother might qualify as a subplot, but it's so integrated into the main proceedings that I resist describing it as such) and is far less about law or injustice than it is about pure love, and you won't find depictions of love much more pure than that between Karel and Sylvia, or between Sylvia and her brother, relationships completely unburdened by any selfishness whatsoever. The title invokes something more along the lines of a fairy tale than a realistic drama, and while their struggles are almost hyper-realistic in a manner rarely seen in films today, their spirits are positively transcendent, object lessons in how ideally to meet our problems even when afflicted by the most difficult of circumstances.

After a really wonderful first hour the ending of ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN is rather rushed, and I'm not sure what accuracy there is to its depiction of contemporary immigration laws (there's never any hint that Karel's marrying Sylvia would enable him to stay in the United States, but only a few years later HOLD BACK THE DAWN would completely revolve around that facet of the law). Also, is Karel really supposed to still be living on the roof of Sylvia's apartment building (as he tells the judge, perhaps untruthfully?) months after working steadily at his various jobs? It hints at censorship concerns for a movie released in 1935. But those things are beside the point. Lederer and Rogers (and the other actors: J. Farrell MacDonald playing his inevitable Irish cop, and Sylvia's brother whose name I don't recall, are just as perfect as the leads) make the film a lovely experience to see. It qualifies as one of those hidden gems that scream to be rediscovered, but somehow rarely are.