Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Stagedoor: How acting is just like karate

Pajama Party: Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers are roommates at the "Footlights Club" a theatrical boarding house on Broadway.

Acting apparently is a body-learned skill like Karate if the movie Stage Door (1936) is to be believed. Katharine Hepburn plays Terry Randall, a blue-blood novice actress who arrives at a theatrical boarding house with three enormous trunks full of clothes, a pocket full of cash and some big ambitions. While the rest of the girls at the boarding house are pounding the pavement looking for work, Terry reads Shakespeare and gives lectures on the topic to a reluctant audience of house mates. She goes on no auditions and insults a major producer to his face and yet she lands the lead role in a new play. Her father, hoping to cure her of the acting bug has gone to the trouble and expense of backing a show for the sole reason of giving her the star role at which he's certain she will fail. If this seems a bit extreme and silly as a method of parenting, you can take comfort in that it utterly fails. Terry who shows no talent in rehearsal, suddenly discovers she can act when one of the members of footlights club commits suicide. Like Daniel-sahn in the Karate Kid, Terry has been unwittingly taking lessons from a master, all the while she thought she was just waxing the cars and painting the fence. Or something like that.

Ginger Rogers and Adolphe Menjou are also in this snappy movie, with Rogers providing most of the zingers in her repartee with Hepburn. Rogers plays a struggling actress who gets a job dancing in one of Menjou's clubs. Rogers is always a delight and it's fun to watch her tap dance away from wolfish non-dancing Menjou. The excellent supporting cast includes Lucille Ball in an early role that showcases her comedic talent, though not as much as we might hope. Andrea Leeds who plays the suicidal Kay Hamilton earned an Oscar nod for her work, which is a touch dated and over the top at times, but still manages a few moments that are truly unsettling. Gail Patrick who plays the villainous Bianca in My Favorite Wife is here playing a prototype of that character.

The best thing about Stage Door is that at its heart it is about friendships between women. Unlike The Women, it's not all about men, though there are a few token members of that sex in Stage Door. The way the actresses talk and interact is the real joy of the movie. There is a gritty realism here from the lousiness of the food to the lumpiness of the mattresses and one instantly senses that all the cynical wisecracks and toughness hide genuine vulnerability.


kda0121 said...

I love Ginger Rogers and Stage Door. Director Gregory La Cava followed up his classic My Man Godfrey with another classic in this crackling comedy/drama. The whole cast is delightful, but I think Ginger steals every scene she's in. Kate Hepburn was good in this as the snobby rich girl, but Rogers is in top form and should've won the Oscar for this, instead of for Kitty Foyle in 1940; which by the way, rooked Kate out the Oscar she deserved for The Philadelphia Story. Oh well, I don't want to get into the whole Oscar mess.

This is just a wonderful movie and the I only wish it could've been made pre-code. The scenes with Adolphe Menjou might have been a bit more meatier.

Irena said...

I still have not watched the "Stage Door" but now after reading your review I feel
I must watch it without any further delay!

Jennythenipper said...

he Oscars are a tangled web, kda, you are wise not to go there. They are always playing "catch-up." It's interesting to think about this movie alongside "My Man Godfrey." When you look at both of them, they are both about "Slumming" and about the way that dignity is the first casualty in a financial crisis.

Yes, irena, I think you should not delay. I can't believe I made it this long as a Hepburn fan without seeing it.