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Kathy lives in a cramped New York flat with her father Madden Thomas, a celebrated actor brought down by drink. Lame from an early age and feeling trapped with her father in her small world, Kathy is delighted to meet fellow tenant Robert. When Madden is offered the lead in a new King Lear and Robert lands a composing job in Hollywood, better times seem for a while to beckon. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A big departure for Monty Woolley....and a really superb film.
While his name isn't exactly famous today, Monty Woolley was one of the best supporting actors of his age (not B-movies...more like 'A Minus movies'). He also starred in some wonderful lower-budgeted films that are joys to watch today. Because of this, I have tried to see every one of his films. When I found "Life Begins at Eight Thirty" today, however, I was surprised. His films normally are light comedies or wonderful family films. He also did make a couple musicals...but I didn't think he made serious dramas--ones with a dark tone like this movie.
Woolley plays Madden Thomas--a well-respected and famous actor who decided long ago to abandon his stage career in favor of the bottle. Being a drunk has its advantages...stage fright certainly is no longer an issue and he doesn't have to deal with disappointments! He and his daughter, Kathy (Ida Lupino), live in a crappy apartment and scrape to make ends meet. However, a kind neighbor, Robert Carter (Cornell Wilde) remembers Madden--and he's determined not only to help him get work but to bring his daughter out of her shell. It seems that Kathy has a MINOR problem with a limp...and she sees it as a huge impediment. What's to come of this sad Thomas clan? And, what is the truth about Kathy's leg?
In many ways, Woolley plays pretty much the same sort of character he played in "The Man Who Came to Dinner"....but with a tragic and dark side that makes his funny rants and eccentric behavior anything but funny. It's a strange juxtaposition--but one that works well. The film in many ways, however, is more a Lupino film as she gets a very meaty role--a chance to show everyone that she has a lot more depth than her earlier films showed. She is, at times, the perfect enabler. I also really liked Wilde's character--he was blunt yet caring. He didn't put up with excuses and seemed like a swell guy.
There are many wonderful moments in this film. Each of the three main characters gets a chance to have a little speech, of sorts where they pour themselves out in front of the cameras--real chances to act! Additionally, the film handles addiction very well--very honestly and without quick and easy resolutions (like in "Lost Weekend" where serious alcoholism is seemingly solved at the end of the picture). Well worth seeing and a highly underrated and very entertaining film.
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