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David Belasco is not a forgotten name - he played too important a role
in Broadway from 1880 - 1931 (when he died). He was a prolific
playwright, and two of his works still retain the stage - although as
operas (MADAME BUTTERFLY and THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST, both composed
by Puccini). But his real forte was directing and producing, for he got
the most out of his stars. As Claude Rains says in this film, when
asked if he could save Mrs. Leslie Carter's acting ability, "I'm David
Belasco! I can make a telegraph pole look good!"
Belasco was not flawless. He was an egomaniac, who insisted on total obedience to his direction if anyone sought him as an acting mentor (as Mrs. Carter did). He was also determined to be memorable as a personality, going about in a suit reminiscent of the Roman Catholic Church (he basically dressed like a priest). While he did improve the acting of his period, his taste in drama tended to be of the melodramas and sentimental play variety. Brooks Atkinson (in his book, Broadway) dismissed him as a ham and poseur, but he was better in bringing a professional structure to acting. Too frequently in that period actors were not as prepared or controlled to give their audiences their money's worth of good acting.
Mrs. Leslie Carter was a minor socialite from the midwest who wanted to go on stage. In the movie she is played (rather well) by Miriam Hopkins. Mrs. Carter got involved in a messy divorce from her husband, in which she lost custody of her only son. Under Belasco's tutalage she became one of the leading female stars of her age. She did try to resume her relationship with the son, but she was so involved in building her art and stage reputation her son was nearly ten when she saw him again. The relationship was never resumed. As for her career it blossomed, but she decided to remarry. Belasco expected to be consulted and wasn't, so he broke with her.
After a decade of floundering, a rapproachment with Belasco was arranged, and her career resumed it's previous success.
As an interesting slice of theatrical history THE LADY WITH RED HAIR (which, ironically, is a black and white film) is worth watching. Rains and Hopkins give their typically best work in their lead roles. I would definitely recommend the film.
I had seen Lady with Red Hair back when it appeared, and didn't remember
as something to cherish. The truth is that, notwithstanding its base in a
true story, its screen play is silly and unbelievable. The real merit of
the picture is the cast. A constellation of some of the best supporting
players of the 30's and 40's make a background for the delicate,
work of the always underrated Miriam Hopkins, and the wonderful,
performance of Claude Rains, who, as usual, is the best thing in the
picture. What an actor! He never won an Oscar, but he is in the good
of Chaplin, Garbo and Hitchcock. Perhaps Lady with Red Hair contains his
best work in films. See it and enjoy him.
As a biographical film, "The Lady With Red Hair" (the story of how director
/producer/playwright David Belasco transformed notorious society divorcee
Mrs. Leslie Carter into an international stage star) is certainly not in a
league with that other Warner's biopic of similar vintage, "Yankee Doodle
Dandy" (what is?), but "Lady" is an enjoyable film in its own right--AND
shares quite a few traits in common with the Cagney classic.
Like "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "The Lady With Red Hair" brims over with old -time show-business flavor. (Among other things, both films feature delicious theatrical boarding-house sequences as well as the inevitable scenes set backstage and in theatrical managers' offices.) Also, in "Lady" as in the Cohan biopic, the supporting cast is made up of familiar and beloved character actors of the period, all doing the sort of top-notch work we remember them for.
Need I add that, again like "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "The Lady With Red Hair" doesn't let the truth get in the way of telling a good story? But, also like "Dandy," "Lady" does manage--gloriously!--to convey the esssence of its show-business-giant hero's larger-than-life personality. Everyone knows that Cagney limned Cohan for all time in his brilliant and affectionate portrayal in "Yankee Doodle Dandy"--but few moviegoers realize that Claude Rains did a similar service for David Belasco in "The Lady With Red Hair"- -and did it with a panache that almost equals Cagney's.
Rains-as-Belasco perfectly captures that legendary showman's galvanic personality in all its outsized glory. Rains gives a tremendously enjoyable , superbly observed, and remarkably true-to-life performance as the man all Broadway once called "The Wizard." To watch Claude Rains in action (looking in every shot as if he's having a helluva good time!) in "The Lady With Red Hair" is to see David Belasco leap to life on film as if he can't wait to shake things up on the Main Stem once again.
Miriam Hopkins is "The Lady with Red Hair" in this 1940 biopic of Mrs.
Leslie Carter which also stars Claude Rains as David Belasco, Richard
Ainley as Lou Payne, and a fine cast of supporting players, including
Laura Hope Crews and Victor Jory.
Miriam Hopkins and Claude Rains give wonderful performances. Hopkins was a beautiful actress who really makes us feel for Mrs. Carter. Rains is great as the flamboyant, egotistical producer/writer/actor/impresario David Belasco, one of the great names in theater.
Though Mrs. Carter's second husband, Lou Payne, served as adviser on this film, it's a poor representation of the real events of Mrs. Carter's life. True, there was a much publicized and bitter divorce, and she was undoubtedly viewed as a scandalous character for that and for becoming an actress. However, she had custody of her son Dudley, so there was no custody battle. Once she broke with Belasco, she did not go back to him and, in fact, started working in vaudeville and actually made some films toward the end of her life. She did indeed marry Lou, and he became her leading man in many productions.
The driving force for Mrs. Carter in the beginning of this film is regaining custody of her son, but she finally realizes that in her time away from him, he is thoroughly bonded with his father. In the film also (and I'm not sure if it was true in real life) she traveled with her mother and lived in a theatrical boarding house, which gives the film some added interesting atmosphere.
Not a bad movie, probably not a depiction of the greatness of either Carter or Belasco. One of Mrs. Carter's most famous moments was in The Heart of Maryland, where she wore a wig with six-foot tresses. Off-stage, fans blew her hair as she hung 35 feet above the stage clutching the center of a bell to keep it from ringing. Quite a visual.
The Lady With Red Hair is about the relationship of Broadway impresario
David Belasco and his star creation Mrs. Leslie Carter.
Mrs. Carter was a society socialite whose rather messy divorce and custody battle made her want to seek employment in the theater when she couldn't get a job doing anything else. After a few tries she hook up with David Belasco who molds her into a glamorous stage star from the turn of the last century.
What I found amazing in this whole film was that we never do find out just what in this divorce made her such a notorious woman. The film opens as the divorce proceeding is about to conclude, we never see what it was all about.
We do find out that the terms of the divorce gave her limited visitation rights to her son. That's given as the real reason for her determination to succeed as opposed to possibly trading in on her notoriety. A reason today's audience would definitely understand. In fact why was she billed as "Mrs. Leslie Carter" if it wasn't for the notoriety.
Miriam Hopkins as Carter and Claude Rains as Belasco give a good account of themselves. So do those two old gals Laura Hope Crews as Hopkins's mother and Helen Westley as the owner of the theatrical boardinghouse where they reside. Those two date back to when Mrs. Leslie Carter was a big name on Broadway.
Richard Ainley of the Ainley British theatrical family gives a wooden performance in a part that's underwritten as Carter's second husband. Wasn't Errol Flynn available?
Back in the 1890s divorce in and of itself was scandal. So why weren't we given the salacious details?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
OK, so David Belasco (Claude Rains) doesn't actually say those lines to
Mrs. Leslie Carter (Miriam Hopkins), the Chicago socialite whom he
takes a chance on to prove to himself that he can make a star out of
anybody. But those lines, paraphrased from those spoken (historically
50 years later) by fictional producer Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter0 to
hopeful Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) in "42nd Street", could just as
easily have been spoken in this Warner Brothers biography of two of the
greatest names in the pre-20th Century Broadway theater. Hopkins'
desperate actress was tossed out of Chicago society after her wealthy
husband (unseen on screen) divorced her for infidelity, causing her to
loose custody of her child. Determined to make a success out of her
life and win her son back, Hopkins heads to New York, calls in a favor
on an old friend of her fathers, and ends up with a letter of
introduction to the famous Broadway producer who initially lies to her
just to get her out of her hair, but later finds himself running lines
for his yet uncast play with her. She makes a flop in that production,
but Belasco is determined not to be remembered for having taken a
chance on a non-talent. He trains her, nags her, screams at her
relentlessly, and before long, she's the toast of Broadway in a play
that runs for well over a year before heading on a world wide tour.
When the play finally makes it to Chicago, she is hissed by the society
that tossed her out, and makes a plea for mercy. They take her into her
hearts, but the same can't be said for her son, who nonchalantly
rejects her. Mrs. Carter returns to New York, continues in more plays,
but finally shakens her relationship with the temperamental Belasco by
marrying a struggling actor who spends his summers touring in stock.
Carter then falls out of favor thanks to bad plays and poor
performances, and is given one last chance to prove herself. This
brings on an emotional conclusion that could have been explored a
little bit more, but is still satisfying.
A year after co-starring with Bette Davis, the Queen of Warner Brothers in two of her 1939 hits "The Old Maid" and "Juarez", Miriam Hopkins and Claude Rains get together to star in this ambitious drama, one of a series of biographies Warner Brothers made in its heyday. The film is predictable and sometimes melodramatic, but never not well acted. Hopkins and Rains suit each other well, temper for temper, and while the black and white photography doesn't really show off the titled red hair (as it didn't do for the red dress in "Jezebel"), that really doesn't matter much. This is a film about the performances, not the pacing or dramatic believability. The supporting performances for the most part are unexciting when compared to Hopkins and especially Rains (whose performance as Belasco is among his best), but those of an unusually unfluttery Laura Hope Crews as Hopkins' mother and the always wonderful Helen Westley as the owner of the theatrical boarding house are excellent. Ignore the typical clichés of the rise to fame from nowhere stories and simply enjoy the performances, particularly that of Rains as Belaco as the legendary Broadway producer whose ghost supposedly haunts the theater on Broadway today that bears his name.
As everyone else has commented, THE LADY WITH RED HAIR is another of
those Warner bios that takes liberty with the facts, but manages to be
However, as the very theatrical title lady, MIRIAM HOPKINS gives an over-the-top melodramatic touch to her entire role, making it seem implausible that theater patrons would give her "acting" such a standing ovation. Indeed, the worse part of the film is when it shows Hopkins practicing her art or giving a demonstration of her talent as a stage actress.
The other flamboyant performance is given by CLAUDE RAINS, but rightfully so, since he's playing David Belasco who apparently liked to "ham it up" at every opportune moment whether teaching others how to act or simply acting up a storm in his personal life.
Director Curtis Bernhardt has done nothing to keep Hopkins or Rains from all the theatrical excesses they bring to their characterizations, but we do get some good supporting work from HELEN WESTLEY as the boarding home owner, LAURA HOPE CREWS (as Miriam's mother), JOHN LITEL as a producer, and many other Warner contractees. But RICHARD AINLEY is colorless in the sort of part that could easily have gone to CORNEL WILDE, who instead has a bit part as a wannabe actor at the boarding house. Ainsley's performance is wooden indeed and pales opposite the strident and mannered acting of Hopkins.
Interesting but something about the screenplay suggests that much was altered and cut in producing this film based on Leslie Carter's memoirs. Little JOHNNY RUSSELL appears briefly in two scenes as Carter's son, the one she loses custody of in a court battle. (He played Shirley Temple's little brother in THE BLUE BIRD shortly before this film).
Like almost all bio-pics from this era, "The Lady With Red Hair" plays
fast and loose with the facts. While the general facts are true, the
life of an early stage and screen star, Mrs. Leslie Carter, have been
changed liberally to make for a more interesting tale. A few of the
changes include her flop in her first performance (it was actually a
hit) and her son becoming estranged from her (in fact, the child sided
with her against his father--and was disowned as a result).
The film begins with the divorce trial of Mr. and Mrs. Carter. All the reasons for this and what led to this isn't mentioned--other than the fact that she (Miriam Hopkins) was seen as an adulteress. In the end, she loses the case and her millionaire ex-husband is given custody of their young son. In a desperate attempt to earn money, she heads to New York and has some very naive expectations about becoming a star. However, surprisingly, she meets the great Belasco (Claude Rains) and he molds her into a star.
After years of being a star, Mrs. Carter has the nerve to have a personal life. When she marries another actor, Belasco writes her off--vowing never to speak to her again--and vice-versa. What follows is a lean period--when jobs are scarce and she is at her lowest. But, being a trooper down deep, she manages to pull it together and make a career for herself on her own. Oddly, however, this feud and her subsequent success was handled way too fast--creating little tension and ending very abruptly--a major handicap for the film. However, it's still worth watching--as Hopkins is at her best.
This film was released a year after "The Wizard of Oz," and I was
surprised to hear some of that classic's music being utilized in a
scene here. The music in question from "Oz" is played over the opening
scenes of Dorothy and Toto (puzzlingly entitled "Trouble In School"),
and several times throughout the film. In "Lady with Red Hair," the
same music is heard in scenes involving the lead character's young
Interestingly, in 1951, the film "Too Young to Kiss" utilized the exact same music over the opening credits.
Being that 1939's "Oz" came first, I can only assume the later films "borrowed" composer Harold Arlen's score.
CORRECTION: I have been informed that the above-mentioned tune is actually not original to "Oz," but is a classically composed children's tune.
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