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Barrymore lampoons himself. A famous actor, given to drink, nearly destroys the show, but his leading lady returns to save it. Meanwhile a young girl tries to reform him. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
... it were not so close to the sad truth of the final years of John Barrymore's life - Barrymore disappearing from the set and going off on a bender, an on-again-off-again relationship with a a much younger fourth wife that was out for what she could get for herself, Barrymore addicted to the drink and unable to get work in his final days unless he was parodying himself.
As the film opens Evan Garrick (John Barrymore) has run out on his studio for the last time. The studio fires him from his current film role and tears up his contract, and his wife and agent leave him. In true Barrymore fashion he says good riddance to both. Into his life appears aspiring playwright Mary Maxwell (Anne Baxter), who tries to recruit him to play the lead in the script she has just finished. At first Garrick is going to throw her out, but when he learns that Mary's fiancé already has decided to back the play he quickly reconsiders, given that he is 12,000 dollars overdrawn on his bank account.
The play turns out to be horribly hammy and boring, and looks like it is headed for failure when Garrick decides to relieve his tension after the first act with a little alcohol. When he comes out drunk for the second act his antics have the audience in stitches. However, author Mary Maxwell is not amused and wants to close the play. When the critics judge the play a success - not realizing it is just a drunk Garrick carrying on - everyone involved convinces Mary that Garrick just needs reforming, and that she shouldn't turn her back on him. They never realize she'll take them seriously and actually reform him. A sober Garrick gets them back where they were - a bad play, an unresponsive audience, and a greatly diminished box office. What's worse, Garrick is now stealing Mary away from her fiancé (John Payne). How can this thing end happily? I'll let you watch and find out.
What makes this work is that Anne Baxter is out-hamming Barrymore throughout so that his self-parody does not seem so over-reaching. Gregory Ratoff is hilarious as Garrick's agent who is on the run from the mob over an eight thousand dollar gambling debt and needs to make the play a success if he doesn't want to wind up in a cement overcoat. A young John Payne has the role of Mary's fiancé.
Like I said in the beginning, the less you know about the truth of John Barrymore's final days the funnier this will be to you. It really is a good comedy.
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