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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.
I almost couldn't make it through the whole film, but I stuck it out for JB. He breaks my heart in a way that almost no one else can. For those of you who are using this one performance as a yardstick to judge his talent by, you're selling him and yourselves short. This was a phenomenally gifted man with a finger constantly pressing his self-destruct button for reasons only he knew. You have to see his other films, silent and sound, that show his true range. "Twentieth Century," "Don Juan," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "Svengali," - these are a few of the performances that are worth seeing. He was more than astonishingly handsome and sexy. He had guts and fire, and just couldn't overcome his fatal thirst. I would sell my soul to go back in time to see his "Hamlet" or "Richard III". All of his private and public sins aside, he was one of the greats, unjustly ignored by the Academy and forgotten by viewers. How sad. He deserved so much better.
... 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film earns the term 'cringe-worthy'. That's because in the final
years of his alcohol-shortened life, John Barrymore made some rather
bad films--ones where he horribly over-acted and mugged. But, this is
the worst of them to watch because he is essentially playing himself
and you may find yourself laughing at his actual real-life
self-destruction--something I am just too uncomfortable doing (much
like the recent love of watching Charlie Sheen do the same by the
In this film, Barrymore plays a master thespian of the stage who is a hard-core alcoholic who has been multiply married and is completely irresponsible. And, due to his drinking, he messes his life up and destroys a play. But the public doesn't realize that he's drunk and thinks the acting by Barrymore meant to be this bad--and the show (like "The Producers" and their play "Springtime for Hitler") becomes a sensation. There is a subplot involving John Payne and the playwright--but it is rather inconsequential. Instead, the movie is simply Barrymore parodying himself! While surreal and oddly interesting, I just felt terrible knowing that within two years, Barrymore would be dead--a man prematurely ruined in a grand fashion as everyone looked on in either horror of amusement. In his final years, Barrymore couldn't remember his lines, confabulated much of the time and was a happy but depressing drunk. Sad...very sad and enjoyable in a necrophiliac sot of way.
By the way, if all this seems a bit familiar, the film is very similar to the 1980s film "My Favorite Year" in which Peter O'Toole plays almost the exact same character though he proceeds to destroy a TV show instead of a play--and the public loves it and thinks it's real.
This is an excellent comedy about an actor on his last legs hamming it up for his own amusement. I reject any of the evaluations here that rely on Mr. Barrymore's real life or condition at the time of making of this film. I don't see the logical connection. It's a funny movie, with Barrymore skillfully playing his part. I understand our English and arts departments in universities are infested with an irresistible need to analyze and judge everything not by what it is, but the conditions, times, politics, and philosophies of the people who produced them. If that makes sense to you, then you can't enjoy the Marx Brothers without bearing in mind Groucho's unhappy marriages, Chico's gambling mania, Zeppo's desire to leave performing and become a Hollywood agent, etc. Barrymore is a terrific comic actor in this film. Do you really care about his life off-screen to decide whether to enjoy it? Read about Barrymore all you want (including Ben Hecht's memoirs, A Child of the Century) and try to catch Christopher Plummer's one-man show, recently on PBS. But for heaven's sake, leave off the higher criticism or whatever the hell you call referencing stuff that's not in the work itself.
The premise of a seriously-intended turkey becoming an unexpected comic
hit succeeded brilliantly as 'The Producers' but over the years has
laid several eggs, such as the ghastly 'The Talk of Hollywood', 'Mr Ten
Per Cent'... and 'The Great Profile'.
In March 1939 John Barrymore had opened with his fourth and final wife Elaine Barrie in a farce entitled 'My Dear Children', which became a surprise Broadway hit on the strength of the extraordinary spectacle it provided of one of Broadway's leading lights making a drunken exhibition of himself night after night (since he could no longer remember his lines he ad libbed much of the time). After it finished its run in May 1940, Fox cashed in on Barrymore's current notoriety by rushing into production this tasteless quickie with Barrymore reading his lines off cue cards in a role disturbingly close to reality (such as the squabbles with his wife, who abandoned both him and the play before it completed its run).
A good supporting cast founders in badly written parts. Gregory Ratoff as Barrymore's agent manages to make even Barrymore's hamming look like method acting (and just when you think his mugging can't get any worse he shows up in blackface). The rest have little to do. Seventeen-year old Anne Baxter is charming as always as the aspiring playwright, but her character is so boring you tire even of her (John Payne is given more to do as her fiancée, but so towers over her the effect is rather bizarre in their scenes together). Lionel Atwill, although receiving featured billing, has so little screen time one can only assume his role was cut (by bizarre coincidence three years later Atwill himself starred in a short-lived stage production of 'My Dear Children'). Joan Valerie, too, makes quite an impression in a brief scene as the play's understudy, but is thereafter hardly seen again.
It's unlikely that this dreadful script would have been better served had it instead starred Adolphe Menjou (who had done a hilarious parody of Barrymore in 'Gold Diggers of 1935'), since Barrymore hadn't lost the self-mocking good humour that made further stages in his final decline like 'World Premiere' and 'Playmates' tolerable; its just a lousy film.
Even in his last days John Barrymore always retained a healthy sense of
humor about himself. He knew himself inside and out and in these last
films like The Great Profile the last ounces of his talent he's giving
to film audiences. Soon there would be nothing left.
Watching The Great Profile and seeing Barrymore has all the fascination of a train wreck. Knowing his history you seem compelled to watch it and make no mistake it's a funny film, but there's an underlying sadness to it.
There's a pale reflection of his performance as Oscar Jaffe in Twentieth Century. Barrymore is married to Mary Beth Hughes and she's ready to ditch him. So's just about everybody else in town. But Anne Baxter in her second film plays an Eve Harrington like fan. She's written a play and she wants The Great Profile to star. He goes into his usual shtick with her about how great art is a reward unto itself, but when he hears she comes with financing through her rich boyfriend John Payne, he more than relents. After all offers aren't piling up with him.
When Barrymore during out of town tryouts comes on blasted to the gills, Hughes walks out refusing to be humiliated by him any more, but the thing which Baxter wrote as a romantic drama is turned into a comedy smash. Kind of like a dipsomaniac version of Olsen&Johnson's Hellzapoppin'. No two performances were ever the same, but they were all good. Then Baxter takes it into her head to reform him and it nearly kills the goose that's laying all their golden eggs.
Reading here that this was originally intended for Adolph Menjou, I almost wish Menjou did it. Menjou certainly could do broad comedic performances, look at him in Golddiggers of 1935 for instance. Barrymore's dissipation because he was such a public figure was carried out in all the media.
As I said Barrymore was a man who had a sense of humor. He loved what Fredric March did in The Royal Family Of Broadway as Tony Cavendish which was based on him. But now it was real and no satire.
The Great Profile is funny, but if Menjou had done it the experience would not feel like a guilty pleasure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Great Profile is directed by Walter Lang, has a screenplay by
Milton Sperling and stars John Barrymore, Mary Beth Hughes and Anne
This is a funny but quite bizarre film with John Barrymore parodying himself.The films title is the actual nickname Barrymore was given in real life.
Evans Garrick(John Barrymore)is an admired and gifted actor whose becoming something of a ham. Mary Maxwell(Anne Baxter)is a young woman who writes a play especially for Garrick, Garricks wife Sylvia (Mary Beth Hughes)leaves him but returns to him to get a part in the new play. When the play is performed Garrick comes on stage drunk but the audience think the things he does are part of the play.
This becomes quite an uncomfortable film to watch when you know about Barrymore's personal life, he is basically playing himself in this and it's sad to watch. Barrymore's performance is excellent though and he chews up the scenery and spits it back out again. A must see for fans of Barrymore who want to see as many of his films as they can.
Great Profile, The (1940)
* 1/2 (out of 4)
Incredibly bizarre and rather sad comedy has John Barrymore playing himself but the comedy brings more frowns than laughs. In the film Barrymore plays an actor who's pretty much been kicked out of Hollywood due to his drinking habits but he's given another chance by a young playwrite who feels her latest play can bring the actor back to top. The play fails but the actor comes out on stage drunk, which causes huge laughter in the crowd and turns the play into a hit. However, the young playwrite would rather have a sober actor rather than a hit play but this doesn't sit well with the producer. Yes, this is a comedy about an alcoholic that people want to get drunk so that people will laugh at him. Knowing Barrymore's history with alcohol, I can't say that this film made me laugh. The humor doesn't sit or play well today but the strange thing is that the only successful part of the movie comes during the first play performance when Barrymore goes on stage drunk. The actors maniac style really makes for some hilarious moments but everything else here falls flat on its face. The film is pretty dull, lifeless and just not that interesting. The attempts at humor might have worked in 1940 but today they just come off as sad and its made even sadder that Barrymore has to do it. Mary Beth Hughes, Gregory Ratoff, John Payne, Anne Baxter and Lionel Atwill play support.
THE GREAT PROFILE is not much more than JOHN BARRYMORE spoofing himself
as an actor who can only inspire an audience when he's drunk.
Otherwise, the feeble play he's in doesn't do anything to keep the
What makes the film a point of curious interest more than anything else, is watching Barrymore reading his lines from cue cards off screen--something he did in many a film made before and after this one. By this time, it became a necessity if the director wanted to get the film in on budget.
MARY BETH HUGHES is his sassy blonde wife, one of those actresses from the '40s who was always cast as "the beautiful blonde with attitude" and ANNE BAXTER makes an early appearance at seventeen, already a capable enough actress as a woman who has faith in promoting the actor when her play is successful, but only when he's in the cups. Barrymore's only reason for agreeing to perform in her play is based purely on the money she offers to back it. And that, essentially, is the plot, with Barrymore insisting that his wife play opposite him.
I was never a John Barrymore fan and all I can say is that he confirms his "ham" status with his role here. It's hard to discern any difference between his acting when he's playing "Hamlet" (in true ham fashion) or acting as himself. And unfortunately, his is not the only weary performance it's a strain to watch. GREGORY RATOFF, as his fast-talking manager, seems to have been struck by the same bug.
As the young playwright, ANNE BAXTER gives the only calmly underplayed performance, although her patience with the overwhelming Barrymore is hard to find credible. And to his credit, JOHN PAYNE shows a flair for comedy in a thankless supporting role.
The plot is a silly one with Barrymore making a complete burlesque of his role--and the others not far behind. It's hard to take any of this seriously enough to warrant more than casual attention.
Tedium sets in after the first fifteen minutes and it never lets up.
Summing up: Easy to skip. Between Ratoff and Barrymore, too much ham.
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