Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stage Door (1937) and Andrea Leeds

Director: Gregory La Cava
USA 1937
92 min

See it on YouTube here.

Wow! What a film!

Stage Door is a fast-moving drama/comedy about a boardinghouse full of women waiting for their big break as actresses. The dialogue is quick and snappy, so this is probably one of those movies that only gets better with every time you see it!

They say that Gregory La Cava was a "woman director", and I bet you have to be really gifted to handle this crowd of big and promising actresses go, not making the film confusing. And it really manages not to be - the fact that all cthe haracters are interesting and take almost equal amount of space in the film is brilliant. You feel the cat claws in the air when Linda (Patrick) and Jean (Rogers) snap cleverly at each other, the clashing personality differences between the roommates Jean and Terry (Hepburn), and the dejected cynicism among the rest of the girls, with a stunningly beautiful Lucille Ball in the lead. The fact that Ann Miller managed to fake a birth certificate to get the role (she was only 14 here!) and pull off the dancing scenes with Rogers as an equal is simply admirable.

Scene: 14 year old Ann Miller and Ginger Rogers doing their dance routine. A slimy Adolphe Menjou keeps his eyes on the blonde one.

Hepburn, Ball and Rogers.

And after C. K. Dexter Haven's constant lovestruck babbling about Gail Patrick [see here and here], I have come to aknowledge her too - so cool, down-to-earth and charmingly insulting. (I have to admit that I think she manages to steal every scene from the melodramatic Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey, 1936, and that is something to admire!)

And Adolphe Menjou! I always thought he was such a gentleman, but what an unsympathizing upstart he was as the producer Anthony Powell! I felt sick when seeing how he did "his routine" on the hopeful actresses - inviting them to his flat, giving them champagne, turning off the light, talking about how their names are going to be written in lights... Aweful! And amusing.

Gregory La Cava was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture, and the screenplay got a nomination too. I can't really see why they didn't win. (I can't believe Hepburn wasn't nominated for her "The calla lilies are in bloom again" rehearsals! It can't be easy for a good actress to play a bad one.)


Terry: I see that, in addition to your other charms, you have that insolence generated by an inferior upbringing.
Jean: Hmm! Fancy clothes, fancy language and everything!
Terry: Unfortunately, I learned to speak English correctly.
Jean: That won't be of much use to you here. We all talk pig latin.

Jean: Do you mind if I ask a personal question?
Terry: Another one?
Jean: Are these trunks full of bodies?
Terry: Just those, but I don't intend to unpack them.

Eve: [after a dinner where Terry Randall has evidently spoken very eloquently about Shakespeare] Well, I don't like to gossip, but that new gal seems to have an awful crush on Shakespeare!
Susan: [jokingly] I wouldn't be surprised if they get married!
Mary Lou: [with genuine naiveté] Oh, you're foolin'! Shakespeare's dead!
Susan: [Feigning surprise, playing along to entertain the others] No!
Mary Lou: Well, if he's the same one that wrote "Hamlet", he is!
Eve: [playing along, too] Never heard of it.
Mary Lou: Well, certainly you must have heard of "Hamlet"!
Eve: Well, I meet so many people.

Eve: A pleasant little foursome. I predict a hatchet murder before the night's over.

The character that probably fascinated me most was Kay Hamilton, played by the Olivia De Havilland-lookalike Andrea Leeds. (Two years later she read for the part of Melanie in Gone With the Wind, a part that went to De Havilland.)
Kay plays an actress, who already had her success and is now forgotten. She has gotten her eyes on a part in a new play and puts all her energy in getting the part (at one point leading her to faint of exhaustion and malnutrition), but that part goes to Hepburn's Terry Randall.
Andrea Leeds received an Academy Award nomination for her performance as Kay, well deserved.
When I saw her in Stage Door I was so fascinated with her acting, that I simply couldn't understand why I hadn't heard of her before. She was obviously a pretty popular actress in the late 1930's, but she left her film career in 1940 to become a housewife. I think the motion picture industry really lost something there.

Andrea Leeds - the one that got away:


Encore Entertainment said...

I get so tingly inside when I see Kate the Great. Lovely pics of Andrea Leeds. She was great in this.

Kate Gabrielle said...

wow, amazing colorization job on that first picture!!! It's stunning!

I love the dialogue in this film -- and you've really made me see the light about youtube. I wish I had known before how many great films were there. I waited a long time for Stage Door to come on TCM and here it was online the whole time!

CK Dexter Haven's gushing about Gail Patrick has grown on me, too. When I watched My Man Godfrey last week all I could think was how great Gail Patrick was! She really did steal the show.

Lolita said...

Encore Entertainment:
Thanks! Yes, Hepburn is at her peak in this film. (Well, her peak lasted until the late 1960's, according to me, so that maybe doesn't say much... Or it says everything.)

Kate Gabrielle:
Thank you! Thought that I maybe put too much rouge on her cheeks, but I will bend for your opinion!

Yes, you seldom think of looking after your favourite films on YouTube!

Oh, Patrick is so marvelous. I re-watched Love Crazy today, I have to see more of her!

Maggie said...

Thanks for the lovely post on my favorite movie! My favorite line is:
Terry: What do we do about the sing?
Jean; Just leave it there....

It falls silent on my friends, but I roar in laughter.

Lolita said...

Hehe, every other line is a clever one! Without a doubt too many to soak up on just one view!

Elizabeth said...

You've been tagged!

Christopher said...

LOL..why don't you quit running around with those Lumber Jacks and get some sleep.."I need to see this one again..

Anonymous said...

Some nice links to the Marx Brothers here...Eve Arden was in At the Circus, Lucille Ball and Ann Miller in Room Service. And Adolph Menjou played Wagner alongside Frank Sinatra in Step Lively, the remake of Room Service.

Also, there was a movie named Stage Door Canteen, made to boost the war efforts and feturing a star-studded cast which included both Harpo and Katherine Hepburn.

/Mikael Uhlin

Lolita said...

Mikael Uhlin:
Lucille Ball, Ann Miller and Eve Arden did I think about, but the rest was new to me! (Except for Stage Door Canteen. Isn't that the first time you get to see Harpo's red wig in color?)

Anonymous said...

No, Stage Door Canteen was in black and white. Maybe you're thinking of La Fiesta de Santa Barbara, a colour short from 1935 in which Harpo guested. Harpo is on screen for a couple of seconds, wearing a Native American headdress and not a wig!


Anonymous said...

Oh yes, La Fiesta de Santa Barbara is available here:

Harpo appears between 2:41 at 2:50...


Mykal said...

Lolita: WOW did I love Rogers/Miller clip. What a total fox was Rogers! Somehow, I never saw her as being sexual - only Fred Astaire’s partner in full length dress. She was beautiful and what a figure. Oh, to be one of those lumberjacks.

And what about Ann Miller? - so cute and talented. Was she really 14 in that? You could see she was still a skinny kid, but what a natural in front of the camera. Thanks for the clip.

What ever hapened to that kind of talent? Can you think of any of the actresses today that could pull off that scene? I can't. -- Mykal

Lolita said...

Indeed she was! I think Rogers had more sex appeal in the non-Astaire films she made. What a body! Those legs!

I am so fascinated about Miller! How can she be so cool about sharing the screen with the great Rogers at 14 years of age? And I must say - I did NOT have that kind of a body when I was 14!

I have no idea... I guess Hollywood looks for different things in an actress nowadays. "Are you willing to strip in front of the camera? Goodie, shoot!"