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New York City. The Footlights Club is a theatrical boarding
house where young women wait for the chance to make it
on Broadway. To deal with the disappointment & bitterness
that can set in, they engage in wisecracks & gossip. Fiercely
loyal to their friends, they can be wickedly spiteful to
that cross them. Always before them is their dream - to
elusive success at the STAGE DOOR.
A wonderful film, fresh & sparkling, with great dialogue infusing its wit & drama. The rapid-fire cross talk is still a real treat for viewers - as is the chance to see several fine young actresses early in their careers.
The entire cast is excellent. Brash Katharine Hepburn is the new girl who quickly meets the `regulars': feisty Ginger Rogers, cynical Lucille Ball, wisecracker Eve Arden, lively Ann Miller, snobbish Gail Patrick & sweet Andrea Leeds. While the young ladies certainly get most of the attention, be sure not to overlook Constance Collier, terrific as Miss Luther the has-been actress. Growing old on bittersweet memories, she is a constant reminder to the others what, even with success, they still might become.
Adolphe Menjou gives his usual vivid performance as an immoral producer, while Samuel S. Hinds is good as Hepburn's father. Film mavens will enjoy spotting several familiar faces in uncredited roles: Jack Carson as a Seattle lumberman; Grady Sutton as a butcher's helper; Frank Reicher as a stage director; Franklin Pangborn, hilarious as a butler; and Ralph Forbes in the role of Hepburn's stage spouse.
Watch this movie, *any way* you can.
Seriously, you won't be disappointed.
It's a brilliant way to spend a couple of hours: where else would you get an all-star cast that would make your jaw drop today (Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller etc. etc.), and a clever, witty script played to the hilt by the astounding cast?
The story is fairly simple: Terry Randall (Hepburn) moves into the Footlights Club to begin her career as an actress. Viewed as an odd cookie by the rest of the girls, her room-mate Jean (Rogers) especially, she starts to win them over until she wins the part belonging to Kaye (Andrea Leeds). Not wins, so much as given. It takes a tragedy to turn Terry into the actress she could be, and the friend she eventually becomes as she remains in the Footlights Club.
This film benefits from a truly amazing cast: Hepburn is glorious as Terry, an independent, in-your-face girl from the upper class, unsure why she's not liked by her new friends as she blithely (and unknowingly) talks down to them; but fiercely loyal and protective of them nonetheless. Witness Terry's outburst in Powell's office, or the way she puts Jean, much the worse for wine, to bed. Hepburn is truly great in her emotional scenes, when she is called to perform on stage despite the revelation she's received just beforehand.
Hepburn alone doesn't make the movie though (as she eventually does in lesser vehicles with less worthy co-stars). Ginger Rogers as Jean is a breath of fresh air. She's quirky, charming, and just generally appealing in her role, playing Jean with a wonderful confidence that bodes well for the character. You warm to Jean immediately. I love Rogers' drunken scenes with Menjou--ditzy yet sweet.
The supporting cast is fantastic as well, Lucille Ball never missing a chance to steal a scene or make a quip, Eve Arden fast on her heels. Andrea Leeds overacts a little, I think, but is generally good in her demanding role as Kaye--she does an excellent job on the staircase towards the end of the movie.
Absolutely A+. Everything Hollywood should be, was, and now isn't.
Something very sinister happened to movies between 1937 and the 1950s that
made this kind of film impossible to make. It's a terrific example of
ensemble acting, with no one taking a back seat to anyone else. Ginger
Rogers is absolutely amazing, especially after seeing some of the fluffy
stuff she did with Astaire. It's hard to believe this is the same
The dialogue zips along with lighting speed including some great laugh-out-loud one-liners. What a wonderful script! Very much like "Grand Hotel" in its structure and shockingly adult themes.
The relationships between all the women are so complex it's hard to believe it was actually made when it was. It makes men look very bad - at best we're imbeciles, at worst, Svengalis. And it has the same kind of uneasiness and disillusionment with the theater that "Sunset Boulevard" had with the movies. I wish there were more like it.
I don't quite know how to put my passion for this film into words. It's
something I never expected. I taped it off of television because I've been
on a Ginger Rogers kick lately (I think I'm in love with her), and very
luckily experienced something of enormous quality.
There is not a regular plot. Unlike most classical cinema, the goal towards which the film is striving is quite tenuous. Basically, the goal is for Katherine Hepburn to get a part in a play and give a good performance, but it is never stressed. Instead, what we get is more of an ensemble piece. There are characters who are more central than others, but we get to know well a great number of characters. And we live with them, experience their dreams, hardships, and successes, falling more and more deeply in love with them every minute, caring about them as we would dear friends or siblings.
It is most often referred to as a comedy, and the dialogue tends to be hilarious (Ginger Rogers is in full form here, wisecracking at the speed of light), but the film's drama is very affecting, too. This film's ending is so beautiful, and like all great films, we're reluctant to say goodbye to the characters. Fortunately, since I have it on tape, I can visit the boarding house any time I want. Unfortunately, since this film is neither on VHS nor DVD, you probably cannot. Watch for it on AMC or TCM or other stations that play classic films. You will not be disappointed. 10/10
Thanks to the BBC this finally appears as a long-overdue TV showing in
tribute to Kate Hepburn. A stunning cast includes Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden,
Lucille Ball and Ann Miller (both looking impossibly young!), Constance
Collier (one of the great old troupers), Andrea Leeds, Adolphe Menjou, and
in the cast but not credited an hilarious performance from Franklin Pangborn
as Menjou's butler, plus appearances from Jack Carson, Grady Sutton, Ralph
Forbes. It is a classic film fan's joy even if the plot does creak along on
a variation of the 'heiress who wants to act' theme.
Hepburn looks fabulous and that brittle voice was rarely used better than to deliver the sparkling script required. Great role for Ginger too (time off from dancing with Fred, this being around the middle of their legendary partnership). Love it. One to treasure.
Director Gregory LaCava apparently liked to hit the bottle and so had a spotty career, but Stage Door is his masterpiece. Not in some personal, auteurist way, but in having achieved an almost ideal example of Depression-era movie entertainment. Its venue is the Footlights Club, a theatrical boarding house near Broadway, where lamb stew and broken dreams are the nightly staples. Among the gals with stiletto tongues but hearts of gold are Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller, Gail Patrick and formidable Constance Collier ("Could you see an older woman in the part?"). But the movie centers on the rivalry between roommates Katherine Hepburn, as a spoiled rich kid who tries acting as a lark, and Ginger Rogers, as a plucky thespian waiting for her break. Believe it or no, those diametrical opposites (aristocratic, ethereal Kate and tough, pragmatic Ginger) work like a dream together. The script negotiates a delicate path between pathos and bathos, and somehow keeps its balance, even when one of the troupers loses her grip on reality and...Well, enough said. Best of all: this is the movie in which Hepburn gets to elocute: "The calla lilies are in bloom again...." Sheerest heaven.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers firmly in place at the acting
helm, and the combination of Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman as its
writers, 'Stage Door' could be described as already having a lot going
for it. However, the biggest coup for the makers of 'Stage Door' was in
its superb casting of young female talent, the ones who make up the
bulk of 'The Footlights Club'. Sure, many of the women who star in this
film were no strangers in front of the camera by the time they made
'Stage Door', but it should be stated that it was with 'Stage Door'
that many of the young players took their first real big step up the
ladder of film success (Hepburn, Rogers and Menjou excluded, of
Lucille Ball had already been in 30 films before landing the role of Judy Canfield, the wannabe actress who eventually gives up acting in order to get married. In her 30 films prior to 'Stage Door', Lucille Ball was often just an extra, sometimes not even worthy of an ending credit. After this movie she would stand toe-to-toe with the Marx Brothers in 'Room Service' (not in a Margaret Dumont kind of way, either) and later as a passenger on an ill-fated flight in 'Five Came Back'. Of course she would ultimately shatter her movie-acting career with a career in television on a show that would bear her name. Lucille Ball would become an American icon, the first lady of television and perhaps it's most famous personality. You could say that it all really started with her break in getting a part in 'Stage Door'.
Eve Arden would remain a B-actor throughout her career, but just like Lucille Ball, she too would star in her own television program during the later part of the 1950's. Seeing her in the role of 'Eve', it would be easy to say that she was perfectly typecast for 'Stage Door' as herself.
But the biggest surprise of young talent in 'Stage Door' comes from Ann Miller. It's hard to believe she was only 14 years old when she made this. Miller would become famous in films such as 'Kiss Me Kate' and 'On the Town' before retiring from making movies in the mid fifties.
But about the movie .
The dialog in 'Stage Door' sprays the screen in a rapid fire, mainly through the cheeky insults traded back and forth from the films' principal stars: Hepburn and Rogers. Hepburn plays Terry Randall, the spoiled rich girl who relishes an uphill battle, whether it's from embarking upon a new profession with no prior skills in that profession, like acting, or in alienating the poor and desperate women at the Footlights Club by her posh appearance. It's through these attributes that another girl, Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers) finds her as an archenemy. Naturally Terry and Jean become roommates as this arrangement provides the film with many of its humorous situations.
The cynical barbs are not always aimed at each other however. A lot of the time the women appear to be harboring a lot of self-loathing, either for themselves or for their career decisions. The film features a lot of cutaway close ups of these one-liners, perhaps in an attempt to make the movie not appear too much as a stage play. The close ups also provide many comic visuals such as a lot of eye rolling and shoulder slumping. It's to the film director's credit (George La Cava) that these actions never really come across as tiresome. When the film frame is widened out from close ups, the dialog sometimes overlaps, visual jokes whiz by and many different characters run in and out of frame. This is a movie you will have to watch more than once just to hear and see the all of the jokes crammed into its 90 minutes. I'm sure that Howard Hawks watched this film more than once before making 'His Girl Friday'.
It's not often one gets to see so many women wearing cynicism as a protective blanket against rejection, failure and their own arrested development. This film should be treasured.
Oh yeah, Ginger Rogers playing a ukulele is adorable.
9/10. Clark Richards
With a fine cast and an interesting, worthwhile story, "Stage Door" is one
of the best films of the late 1930's. It provides good comedy - at least if
you can keep up with the fast-paced, many-sided dialogues - and some
interesting drama in the lives of its characters. The characters are
well-developed, even the minor ones, and this makes the dramatic
developments that much more meaningful. The atmosphere is a convincing and
very interesting look at life in the theater, neither overly glamourized nor
There is a great deal of talent in the cast, led by Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, whose characters clash in interesting ways. Adolphe Menjou is an ideal choice to play this kind of genial cad. Gail Patrick also is perfect as an elegant but venomous young performer. Constance Collier is amusing as the would-be mentor for the younger actresses. Andrea Leeds is very sympathetic in her role. Most of the other characters in the boarding house get only small stretches of screen time, but they all make good use of it. It's also enjoyable just to see the likes of Ann Miller, Lucille Ball, and Eve Arden in some of their earlier roles.
The cast is the most obvious of its strengths, but the writing is also quite good, and Gregory La Cava's direction is very good, maintaining a good pace without rushing anything, and keeping a good balance between the amusing and the serious sides of the story. Everything works very well, making for an enjoyable and thoughtful picture.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the middle of her box-office poison years Katharine Hepburn scored
with this movie, but she did so on the crutch of her female co-stars
which could also pull in the crowds who wanted to see them in movies.
It can't be denied, though, that this is an excellent movie about
female relationships that pre-dates SEX AND THE CITY by 60 years. One
line, spoken by one of the minor players in the movie, reaffirms that:
all these women can talk about is men and dating because, "What else is
Of course, this makes Terry Randall (Hepburn) an outcast in the boarding house where she has come to reside in while she pursues a career as an actress -- grounded, self-assured if not a bit arrogant (and essaying a variant of the Hepburn persona), she not only criticizes the ladies for sitting around and not taking charge of their lives, but in doing so alienates the majority of them, especially Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers) with whom she shares a room with. Jean is a struggling dancer who has a lot of "bark" and who throughout the movie seems at odds with Terry's attitude. This comes to a head when in a turn of events another roommate, Kay Hamilton (Andrea Leeds), loses a part in the play "Enchanted April" due to interests invested by Terry's father (unbeknownst to her and the play's producer Adolphe Menjou) to have her be the actress filling the part Kay wants. Rogers plays Jean reminiscent of Paulette Goddard's portrayal of Miriam Aarons that another female-heavy picture THE WOMEN, and is a good match to Hepburn's haughtiness which would have been hard to counterbalance.
If at times a little shrill and cute, especially in its stagey feel whenever we see the bit players come on screen and deliver their little more than one line moments, STAGE DOOR nevertheless gives a view of what the "casting couch" system was about, especially in the double sequence featuring Rogers and Hepburn as the targets of Menjou's casual lecherous advances and deceitful promises, although its portrayal of struggling actresses in the 1930s is a tad unrealistic, but who wanted to see realism in a time of massive unemployment rampant poverty? Hence why this boardinghouse is filled with females dressed in gowns closer to Adrian than to what their meager salaries would allow them to wear.
Interesting as well is watching Lucille Ball in a rare appearance in an A-film. Her career until then was mainly B-pictures and would remain so right up until her foray into television as Lucy Ricardo (which suffice to say immortalized her beyond her dreams). Ann Miller also has a small part, and seeing her here, with the confusion of her birth year, it's not hard to see a fourteen year old playacting eighteen, but already she showed the dancer she'd become in the following decade. Gail Patrick and Eve Arden inhabit underwritten parts made more for wisecracking filler than actual people.
A very good movie, one that has one of the few subtle acting moments as the one where Andrea Leeds does a reverse Norma Desmond as the voices in her head grow stronger, it also bears a passing resemblance to other theatre films such as ALL ABOUT EVE and MORNING GLORY.
Superb comedy/drama about a theatrical boarding house and its tenants (all women) focusing primarily on Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. A once in a lifetime cast, all of them in top form. The movie moves VERY quickly with non-stop wisecracks flying across the screen and a very depressing turn at the end. Also, there's no sappy romance subplot - very unusual for a 1930s film. The interplay between Rogers and Hepburn is incredible--they're both holding their own against each other. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress--Andrea Leeds). A must-see. "The calla lillies are in bloom..."
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