Stage Door

1937, Movie, NR, 83 mins

Review

STAGE DOOR
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A stellar cast, superb direction, and a screenplay even better than the stage play on which it was based, all add up to one of the best movies about show business--or about women living together--ever made. Hepburn is a wealthy debutante from an important family. She has come to New York to seek a career on the stage and, rather than take a Park Avenue apartment far removed from the mainstream, she checks into a theatrical boarding house for young, aspiring actresses. The luck of the draw puts her in a room with Rogers (in one of her finest performances), a sarcastic tough cookie who heckles everyone. The two of them are like flint and steel and are close to hair-pulling on a few occasions. All the actresses in the boarding house spend most of their time discussing work, food, and potential husbands. But the ins and outs of their professional lives are central. Ball (who was appearing in her twenty-seventh movie at the age of 27) has been invited to dinner by some lumber barons from the Northwest and she asks Rogers to double date with her. Rogers has a short fuse, and there is no mistaking her likes and dislikes. Among the latter is Patrick, who is more of a mistress to Broadway producer Menjou than she is an actual working actress. Leeds hasn't worked for more than 12 months and she's trying to save some money, so she often foregoes meals. She thinks she may have a chance for the ingenue lead in a new play Menjou is planning, "Enchanted April." (The actual play shown was a rewrite of The Lake, a failed Hepburn vehicle that she starred in after making SPITFIRE.)

Rogers and Miller audition for Menjou with the Hal Borne-Mort Greene song "Put Your Heart Into Your Feet and Dance," and he is taken by them, especially by Rogers. He gets them a job at a nightspot in which he has a financial stake. Menjou asks Rogers for a date and she accepts--not that she finds the old lecher attractive, she just wants to make sure she and Miller get the dance job and she also wants to give the needle to Patrick. Soon Patrick is replaced by Rogers, and fumes about the turn of events. Leeds and Hepburn go together to audition for Menjou's play, but the reading is cancelled. Leeds faints from hunger in the reception area and Hepburn promptly tells Menjou off for the cavalier fashion in which he treats actors. Although he's in his office and apparently not busy, he is sending the actors away as a power play. Now attorney Watkin enters the picture, telling Menjou that a wealthy client, Hinds (who is Hepburn's father), will back Menjou's show if Hepburn is hired for the lead.

Directing his first film since MY MAN GODFREY, La Cava showed that he could handle a large group of actors as well as he could do a straight two-lead comedy. So much work was done on the script that co-author of the play George S. Kaufman suggested waggishly that it should have been called "Screen Door." Legend has it that La Cava ordered the actresses to the studio for two weeks of rehearsal and familiarization with the boarding house set. Then he had a stenographer take their dialogue down as they sat around between rehearsals, and their words were incorporated into the script. The large cast includes Eve Arden (in her fourth film and already taking out a patent on her no-nonsense spinsters), Franklin Pangborn, Grady Sutton, and Jean Rouverol, who later became a well-known screenwriter with her husband, Hugo Butler. For years, impressions of Hepburn have used the line she speaks in while acting onstage: "The calla lillies are in bloom again." The best line in the film, though, is Rogers' marvelous barb to a friend over the phone when Gail Patrick enters the scene: "Hold on, gangrene just set in." The best prop, meanwhile, is the cat forever draped over Eve Arden's shoulders. A brilliant script and strong, realistic acting make this film a treat to the eyes and ears, and it affords the additional pleasure of seeing all those future stars like Ball, Miller, Arden, and Jack Carson in their early days. leave a comment

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