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Stage Door

Posted by martinteller on January 24, 2013

The residents of the “Footlights Club” boardinghouse are all theatrical actresses, struggling to find work wherever they can get it.  One day, Terry Randall (Katharine Hepburn) breezes in, wrapped in furs and wanting a room.  Terry is slumming it, trying her luck at making it on the stage, against her father’s (Samuel S. Hinds) wishes.  Terry gets put in a room with Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers), who — like most of the other girls — resents Terry’s hoity-toity airs and privileged background.  Jean also butts heads with Linda (Gail Patrick), who’s getting cozy with the slimy but powerful producer Anthony Powell (Adolphe Menjou).  It’s a life of fierce competition, lucky and unlucky breaks, and a whole lot of wisecracks.

This movie has a lot going for it.  The cast is thoroughly enjoyable, with a large but comedically gifted group including Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Eve Arden, Phyllis Kennedy, and Constance Collier as the self-appointed stage mother.  I especially liked Miller, although she and Rogers get to do very little dancing.  There’s also Andrea Leeds in the film’s most dramatic role, which we’ll get to in a moment.  Menjou is a fun antagonist, never too bothered when he’s caught in his own philandering and unfairness.  Rogers and Hepburn, although neither giving one of their best performances, have some great moments.  Hepburn does a neat trick pulling off “bad” acting, and Rogers is as brassy as you could hope for.  Both get to show a bit of vulnerability as well.

And then there’s the script, based on a play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman.  It’s exceptionally lively, with rat-a-tat-tat overlapping dialogue to rival Hawks and a lot of zippy wit.  It’s not a screwball comedy, but at times it reads like one.  But I did think some of the lines felt pretty forced, with an unlikely remark shoehorned in just to easily set up the retort.

I have mixed feelings about Kay Hamilton, the Leeds character.  Though the payoff for her storyline is genuinely poignant, the character and performance are melodrama that’s tonally out of step with everything else.  There’s no reason this sort of tragic thread can’t be mixed in with a comedy (see The Apartment, where it’s handled perfectly) but whenever Leeds comes onscreen, it feels like everything stops so we can get to the serious part.  Like a stern schoolmarm butting in to wag her finger and remind everyone that it’s not all fun and games.  It’s not as awful as I’m making it out to be, but it could definitely have been done a little more gracefully.

But that’s enough griping.  For the most part it’s very entertaining, thanks to some terrific lines and a lively cast.  Rating: Very Good (81)


2 Responses to “Stage Door”

  1. Alan said

    Hugely enjoyable movie. Great entertainment. People who have “issues” with older movies might find it a bit dated. Interesting piece of trivia Ann Miller was only 14 when she made this movie!

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