Stage Door


STAGE DOOR swings open to welcome one of the wittiest ensembles of the 1930’s, a popular show from its year 1937, and recipient of a quartet of Oscar nominations. Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller fashioned the quip-laced screenplay, liberally adapted from the play done by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman.  Gregory La Cava directed, fresh off another winner with My Man Godfrey. Sparkling comedy with a poignant dramatic turn gave career boosts to a brace of unique actresses.

It’d be a terrific innovation if you could get your minds stretched a little further than the next wisecrack.

In New York City, the ‘Footlights Club’ boarding house hosts a group of struggling actresses. Their camaraderie and competitive sparring gets a fresh injection when well-off and refined ‘Terry Randall’ (Katherine Hepburn, swank) moves in, determined to make a name for herself despite little experience. She rooms with cheeky dancer ‘Jean Maitland’ (Ginger Rogers, sexy), wary of the new gal and already at cat-claw odds with ‘Linda Shaw’ (Gail Patrick, snippy), who has the attention of important producer (and wolf) ‘Anthony Powell’ (Adolph Menjou, sleazy). Some bonds form, some fray.

Banter galore, with a turn to the serious in the last act that fits in to add to the affection for the array of hopefuls that grows over the course of the just-right 92 minute running time. Oscar nominations went up for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actress (Andrea Leeds).

I see that, in addition to your other charms, you have that insolence generated by an inferior upbringing.”

Hepburn, 30, along with bad press, had been dealt four box-office duds in a row; her facility with smart comedy arrived here (she has great rapport–on film, anyway–with Rogers) and in quick succession she knocked back winners Holiday, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story and Woman Of The Year. Rogers, 26, had enjoyed success (all the Astaire dance flicks) but her saucy turn in this firmly moved her into her own. Besides the legendary leads going girl-o-a-girl-o, in there swinging with them is a bevy of talent. There’s sharp cookie Lucille Ball, 25, getting a notch up after 10 years logging 35 uncredited bit parts; Eve Arden, 29, setting the template for her sly style; and 14-year-old newcomer Ann Miller, who gets to hoof a little with Ginger. Leeds, 23, gets the most dramatic part; she retired a few years later. Established English theater pro Constance Collier, 59, provides a nice mix of pomposity and pathos as the mother hen who takes the initially rejected Hepburn under her wing.

We’ll take these gutsy and supportive gals any day over The Women and its overrrated nest of spiteful harpies.

You can’t have peace without a war.”

With Phyllis Kennedy, Franklin Pangborn (in good form), Jack Carson (27, his first year on screen, one of 14 parts he snagged), Samuel S. Hinds, Margaret Early and Grady Sutton (as ‘Butch’, an in-joke). Cost reported at $952,000, Cogerson pegs the gross at $5,000,000, which places it 23rd among the hundreds of releases from 1937.

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