Stage Door (1937)
“Brilliant In Cast And Story”
Stage Door (1937)
Director: Gregory La Cava
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou
Synopsis: A boardinghouse full of aspiring actresses and their ambitions, dreams and disappointments.
You’d think it was a forgettable, frothy musical from the title, but Stage Door is an adaptation of a stage play filled with wry, sharp dialogue from a cast made up mostly of women. The girls are all struggling on the lower rungs of the entertainment industry. They live in a theatrical boarding house and trade wisecracks while they wait for their big break. Into their midst comes the statuesque Terry Randall (Katharine Hepburn – Bringing Up Baby, Holiday), a rich girl determined to succeed on the back of her own talent rather than the connections of her wealthy father (Samuel S. Hinds – You Can’t Take it With You, It’s a Wonderful Life). An unmistakeable fish out of water, Terry initially rubs her fellow lodgers the wrong way, in particular the brassy but good-hearted Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers – Flying Down to Rio, Black Widow), but eventually wins them around after tragedy enters their lives.
For all its sassy wisecracks, Stage Door is a fairly serious movie at heart. One of its characters, played with sensitivity by Andrea Leeds (My Man Godfrey), is an actress who struggles to cope with the reality that her once-promising rise has inexplicably faltered, and her distress is only heightened when one of her fellow lodgers wins a role upon which she had set her heart. Her strand of the movie doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with the knockabout banter of the rest of the girls, but it anchors the story in a reality that would otherwise have been missing. The ever-reliable Adolphe Menjou (A Star is Born, Paths of Glory) has the only significant male role (there’s no romance in the movie, just sexual manipulation) as a salacious theatrical producer who views most of the tenants of the boarding house as candidates for his own personal harem, and still manages to make him a likeable character. Other notables amongst the bevy of girls in the cast include Gail Patrick (My Man Godfrey, Mad About Music), Lucille Ball (in her breakthrough role) and veteran actress Constance Collier (Intolerance, Rope), while a young Jack Carson (Destry Rides Again, The Groom Wore Spurs) plays a would-be suitor of one – any – of the girls. With all the sexual undertones within Stage Door, it would have been interesting to see what a pre-Code Hollywood would have made of the material.
(Reviewed 1st December 2014)