Saturday, November 09, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Stage Door (1937) at UCLA

Tonight I spent a very enjoyable evening seeing two films in the UCLA series Our Man Gregory La Cava, which opened on Friday, November 8th.

This evening featured a double bill of films Director La Cava made with Ginger Rogers, STAGE DOOR (1937) and 5TH AVENUE GIRL (1939).

I first saw the lesser-known of the two films, 5TH AVENUE GIRL, in 2007. I very much like this story of an unemployed young woman (Rogers) who, after happening to meet a millionaire (Walter Connolly) on a park bench, moves into his home and gradually helps his family find their way to happier lives.

5TH AVENUE GIRL has overtones of Jean Arthur's IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK (1935) and EASY LIVING (1937), with a young woman struggling during the Depression having a "cute meet" with a wealthy man whose life she proceeds to turn upside down. I couldn't help wondering if it might helped inspire the later holiday film IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947), which also features the theme of an impoverished person helping a fractured Fifth Avenue family to find happiness together once again.

5TH AVENUE GIRL -- which, incidentally, is actually titled 5TH AVE GIRL in the opening credits -- deserves to be better known, as it's an excellent '30s comedy which at times is quite touching. I did wonder on this viewing if some of the film might have ended up on the cutting room floor, particularly the development of Ginger's relationship with leading man Tim Holt. Having seen Holt in numerous Westerns in the past year, it was fun to revisit this film and see him in a romantic role, limited though his screen time was.

Memo for the Bess Flowers Fan Club: Naturally, our favorite dress extra is in a nightclub scene, sitting right between Rogers and Connolly. She even has a line!

UCLA's 35mm print was uncharacteristically dim at times, but it was still a wonderful chance to see this film on the big screen. For those who'd like to see the film at home, 5TH AVENUE GIRL is available from the Warner Archive.

Moving on to STAGE DOOR, it's a film I've enjoyed on many occasions, including a big screen viewing many years back, but I've never reviewed it here. It's such a familiar film I've almost come to take it for granted, so it was great to circle back to it and take a fresh look thanks to UCLA's excellent 35mm print.

STAGE DOOR was based on a play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, and it sometimes betrays its theatrical roots, particularly as characters are introduced in the early going. That said, the talent and energy of the film's dream cast quickly moves the viewer past the feeling that one is watching a filmed play.

The film, for those who haven't yet seen it, concerns the residents of a boarding house for would-be actresses, the Footlights Club. Wealthy Linda (Katharine Hepburn) is trying to make it as an actress, to the dismay of her father (Samuel S. Hinds); hoofers Jean (Ginger Rogers) and Annie (Ann Miller) are looking for a dancing gig; glamorous Linda (Gail Patrick) trades barbs with Jean over Linda's producer sugar daddy (Adolphe Menjou); and fragile Kay (Andrea Leeds, channeling Olivia de Havilland), a success the previous year, is now barely scrimping by while hoping for another big role.

I particularly love Rogers and Patrick in this film, who constantly exchange wicked jabs yet in the end seem to have a certain respect and understanding for one another. This is also one of Hepburn's more appealing '30s roles, as the somewhat dense yet likeable actress who hopes to be accepted by the boarding house residents but has a strong enough sense of self to handle it if they choose otherwise.

The cast also includes Lucille Ball, Phyllis Kennedy, Constance Collier, Jack Carson, and Grady Sutton. Of special note are Franklin Pangborn, hilarious as Menjou's backwards-walking butler, and Eve Arden, who spends much of the film with a remarkably docile cat draped around her shoulders.

With this cast and an excellent script, STAGE DOOR couldn't be anything but 92 minutes of top entertainment. It was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress (Andrea Leeds), and Screenplay.

Fun side note: I'm pretty sure the white fur coat Jean borrows from Linda in STAGE DOOR was worn by one of Kathryn Adams' friends in 5TH AVENUE GIRL!

STAGE DOOR is available as a single-title DVD; it's also been reissued as part of the four-film TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection: Katharine Hepburn.


Blogger Jacqueline T Lynch said...

"Stage Door" long a favorite, and love the exchanges between Rogers and Gail Patrick (who is also a favorite). Add Grady Sutton as a gentleman caller, and you can't beat it.

"5th Ave" is, regrettably, not one I've seen, but if our Bess has a speaking part, I've got to track it down. Go, Bess.

4:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I love the Rogers-Patrick dialogue too! I think it's my favorite part of the movie. :)

It was fun to see Bess actually speak! LOL.

Best wishes,

3:18 PM  

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