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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>
Some classic age actors, when seen today, appear hammy and using old-fashioned technique. And some are timeless. John Barrymore is timeless and, in one of his last films, "The Great Profile," he lampoons himself mercilessly - in the role of a ham with old-fashioned technique. The story is based on what really happened to the actor during a play called "My Own Children." The actor Evans Garrick (Barrymore) has been missing for three days. When he arrives home drunk, he's in costume and he's reciting Shakespeare, believing that he just left a film set an hour earlier. Infuriated, his wife Sylvia (Mary Beth Hughes) leaves him. Then pretty Mary Maxwell (17-year-old Anne Baxter) arrives with a play she is desperate for Garrick to do. He gets rid of her by saying he will meet her in his agent's office the next day. His agent (Gregory Ratoff) owes some mobsters $8200 and when he hears that Ms. Maxwell has a wealthy fiancée, Richard Lansing (John Payne) who will back the play, he's all for it. It's a complete disaster, but it gets Sylvia back from Reno as soon as she hears about it, and she wins back her role. Totally polluted by the second act, Garrick makes the play a hit by ad-libbing and finally rolling off of the stage in a wheelchair. Ms. Maxwell is finally convinced to take what she considered her serious drama into New York, where it's been booked for a six-month run, but she takes Garrick in hand to sober him up. Everyone's unhappy - her fiancée and Garrick's agent in particular, since the play is deathly if Garrick isn't drunk.
Strangely enough, most of this actually happened to Barrymore in real life, including his wife leaving him and returning to get her part back in New York. And she did hide in Barrymore's wardrobe as Garrick's wife does in the film, though in real life, Barrymore's daughter Diana tried to keep her from doing so.
Barrymore is extremely dissipated in "The Great Profile" and reads his lines off of cue cards, which toward the end, he did often. For people who say he's a ham, I say he was playing one. He does Hamlet with a quivering sing-song voice. Does anyone believe this is actually how he played his famous Hamlet? He was Olivier's inspiration for the role. Olivier first played Hamlet in 1937 and was known for speaking the dialogue instead of singing it.
There are some very funny moments in "The Great Profile" but in the end, it's a bizarre movie, enlivened by Barrymore's presence. If you want to see a non-hammy Barrymore, I suggest "The Great Man Votes" or "Bill of Divorcement." He was a great actor with a big personality - if that seems strange by today's standards, well, it's the pictures that got small.
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