Thursday, 13 October 2011

Stage Door (1937)

I watched Stage Door (1937) the other day and knew right there and then that it certainly deserved a post. I mean, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Adoplhe Menjou and Lucille Ball, all in one film? Count me in!

"It'd be a terrific innovation if you could get your mind to stretch a little further than the next wisecrack."
~Terry Randall from Stage Door

Stage Door (1937) Directed by Gregory La Cava

Terry Randall: I see that, in addition to your other charms, you have that insolence generated by an inferior upbringing. Jean Maitland: Hmm! Fancy clothes, fancy language and everything! Terry Randall: Unfortunately, I learned to speak English correctly. Jean Maitland: That won't be of much use to you here. We all talk pig latin. 



The Footlights club is a theatrical boarding house in New York, inhabited by fast-talking, quick-witted showgirls all desperately in need of a job. Some of them, like Linda, take the easy way out by having a "sugar daddy" to buy her clothes and take her out, but the others take it the hard way. Work all the way. None more so than Jean Maitland who is determined to be "discovered" the right way. One day, Terry Randall arrives at the Footlights Club. Though slightly stage struck, Terry isn't going to take any nonsense. But she is teased by the other girls for being rich and well educated (her father is "Henry Sims, the wheat king", though she keeps that under wraps), especially by her new roommate, Jean. They don't hit it off well and Jean says they, "started off on the wrong foot, so lets stay that way." Despite Terry's efforts to be friendly.

One lodger in particular is finding it hard to get a job, Kay Hamilton was a big success in a play produced by Anthony Powell, but now can't get any work. 

One day she goes to Powell's office in search of the lead part in his new play "Enchanted April", with which she has a personal connection. After she is refused his audience for the nth time that week, she faints at the desk. Just before this, Terry comes in and sees all and she does storm the office - but to go and give Powell a piece of her mind.

Powell (left) "entertaining" Linda

After this, the girls start to give her a little more respect. But when Jean starts being tempted by Anthony Powell's fancy clothes and dinner trips and broadway star power, Terry steps in and goes to Anthony's apartment; to talk business. And not knowing that her good friend Kay wanted the part, get's the lead in Enchanted April. A play that her millionaire father is secretly financing on the condition that Terry plays the lead. But there is a lot more to go wrong than Terry suspects. And Kay is at her very lowest, with tragic results.

The Verdict:

I really liked this film. I know that it not everyone thinks it's amazing... but "I like it!" (Singing In The Rain reference, anyone? or just me.) I do completely get that Katharine Hepburn didn't understand her character and said that she was unimportant in the story, but the way that she plays Terry makes her essential to the film. It is quite vague and I can't imagine how hard it would be to make a memorable character from the lines alone, but Katharine Hepburn manages to give it the extra attitude and personality that was needed to make the role. She actually asked the director Gregory La Cava what the main point of her character was and he replied "She is a human question mark." After she asked him what that meant he replied, "Damned if I know." 

"The callalilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower. Suitable to any occasion... I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died." ~ Enchanted April

I really enjoyed Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Roger's performance together, even though they reportedly hated each other on set, but I liked the banter and the witty insults. Apparently {cue long-winded, might not even be true story...} the scriptwriters were inspired by listening to the actresses talk on set and lots of the fast paced exchanges and all that jazz is kind of what they sounded like! Cool, no? {And not as long-winded as predicted. Well there's a first time for everything ;-)} And this was my first Ginger Rogers film!

There are basically no men in this film, and I enjoyed the atmosphere of the predominantly women cast, a little like The Women. And this is all going fine and then BAM! Adolphe Menjou!

He's a good actor and all, but in this (and everything else I've seen him in) he has more than the average dose of sleazy. His whole section of the plot wasn't very well developed, and I think that problem stems from the fact that the character of Anthony Powell wasn't in the original play.

There were quite a few emotional moments in the film, but the one that really got me upset was when Jean walks into Terry's dressing room *SPOILERS AHEAD* and tells her that Kay has committed suicide and blames Terry. Then after Jean leaves Terry has a complete crying fit and is just heartbroken and I was just sitting there with my sister and both of us were really sad.

All the supporting actresses playing the roommates in the boarding house are great. I love Ann Miller and she was actually only fourteen when she made this! In the words of the wise Jo March... CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS! That is actually only one year older than me and she is up there dancing with Ginger Rogers and acting with Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball and Adolphe Menjou... Wow. I better start getting a move on!

Awesome, if not a trifle over-enthusiastic...

Lucille Ball is a also lovely, I haven't seen any "I Love Lucy" and I really want to! It's not available on youtube either so I'm just gonna have to wait until at least Christmas.

Eve Arden was also really funny :-D. Andrea Leeds is so fantastic. Just heartbreaking!

Here are two great quotes from Eve Arden's character in the film:

Mary Lou: Well, certainly you must have heard of "Hamlet"! 
Eve: Well, I meet so many people.

Eve: A pleasant little foursome. I predict a hatchet murder before the night's over. 

My mum also told me that Constance Collier is a great favourite of my Grandma's. I can see why. She was totally in her character the whole way through. At the beginning I was a bit concerned about how the performance would turn out, but I found that her portrayal worked out better than I had expected. Also, during the filming, she and Katharine Hepburn became great friends and remained so for the rest of her life. During Katharine Hepburn's stretch of time during the 50s when she played lots of Shakespeare and classics Constance Collier was her acting coach and when Constance Collier died, her secretary came to work for Katharine Hepburn, and did for 40 years. I think that's lovely :-)

And can I just say... Is Gail Patrick like, omnipresent? I don't know what it is but she has been in three of the films I've watched recently and I feel like she's just there... Always playing the same character... It's a bit weird...

Overall a very enjoyable film. Not a masterpiece and there are some holes and slow drags in the script but there are certain parts which I thought were fantastic. Definitely worth a watch.



Rianna said...

I LOVE this movie! Ginger and Katie and of course Lucy. And I totally got your Singin In the Rain reference - Lina in the black and white outfit in that high pitched voice. My dad always teases me with that when we watch a film that he hated but I insist I like -;) Oh, and I'm so so so glad you like Lucy, you MUST watch the show. It's. Amazing. Btw, the Film Classics Blog has quite a lot of the episodes online. :)

StanwyckFan said...

I also really enjoyed this movie. I LOVED the quotes you put in this review. Such wit. But I can't believe you haven't seen any other Ginger Rogers movies though, I just love Ginger Rogers! And, by the way, you can watch almost every 'I Love Lucy' episode on just so you know. :)

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