A maid who works for a traveling theatrical troupe wants desperately to be an actress, and manages to get some small roles in the company's productions, but is determined to do anything she... See full summary »
A maid who works for a traveling theatrical troupe wants desperately to be an actress, and manages to get some small roles in the company's productions, but is determined to do anything she can to show that she deserves a shot at the big time. Written by
OF COURSE most viewers will track this one down for the first screen appearance of stage comedienne nonpareil, Bea Lillie, and Lady Peel gives an absolutely beautiful performance (pretty enough to win an English Lord, as the actress did in real life, yet able to walk a perfect comedic tight rope between insouciant self-confidence and nagging insecurity), but there is even more to recommend this charming backstage comedy than the star performance.
Set (and beautifully observed) deep into the tour of one of those third tier "acting" companies (heavy on the melodramatic programming and light on competent management) that lived on "the road" and which helped bring about first the rise of powerful central booking agencies and ultimately the formation of Actors' Equity, the film seems to say these are a memory of the past even in 1926 . . . but what a lovingly recalled memory!
Bottom of the pecking order within the company is Voilet (Ms. Lillie), who plays maids and cares for the costumes and longs to play "vampire" leads (we're talking 20's vamps, not Anne Rice territory). She's even below the juvenile/character man (last billed featured player Franklin Pangborn, who's later lavender camp personality is still not locked in stone here, though his comic and dramatic talents are), but when she manages to get a handsome young drifter (little she knows!) hired on as the company juvenile, she shows her real acting talents saving him from himself without ever letting him suspect - or suspect that she longs to be more than a friend.
Mary Pickford's younger brother, second billed Jack Pickford, plays the young thespian, Jimmy, very nicely in a rare appearance. Though he lacked a certain "star" quality, his acting was fine and it's a pity his career seemed to wither in the face of his personal demons and more famous sibling. He didn't survive his 30's.
The print being shown these days on Turner Classic Movies has a nicely varied but occasionally too lush score by contest winner Linda Martinez, but it serves the quiet moments (and there are many) beautifully. Director Sam Taylor undercuts playwright Marc Connelly's story at a number of points (given scant hours to prepare Jimmy for his big tryout, does Violet grab a script to get him up on the lines he's never heard? No, they adjourn to a neighboring farm yard to rehearse "cute"), but otherwise the details of on- and back-stage life of the touring company are captured with something close to perfection, and the detail appreciating cinematography and acting from all concerned is a joy from start to finish.
Anyone who loves Lillie's later work (all the way to her Mrs. Meers in 1967's THOROUGHILY MODERN MILLIE - a mere 41 years later but there are some surprising moments of foreshadowing for that role here!) shouldn't miss this one. It captures their girl at the peak of her powers when she could do more with a raised eyebrow than pages of dialogue.
Anyone who loved the early scenes in any of the SHOWBOAT films that gave them their name or who howled at Michael Frayn's hilarious stage farce and fun film, NOISES OFF, will also feel right at home with this deft predecessor.
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