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There is a strange artificiality to Susan Strasberg's performance which
really throws this movie off kilter. Obviously she's playing a very
theatrical young woman who lives for the stage, and in certain scenes
(particularly the party scene where she is not only intoxicated from
champagne but the dreamy proximity to so many Broadway celebrities) this
technique is effective, but she never turns it off. In tender, heartfelt
moments with Henry Fonda's seasoned producer and Christopher Plummer's
blossoming playwright, both of whom are supposed to be madly in love with
her, she's frightfully unresponsive. She's like a pretty little China Doll
whose eyes can blink.
Nevertheless, there is much to like about this film. Fonda, Plummer and Herbert Marshall are superb as various incarnations of success who all become enchanted with Strasberg and her bewildering determination to be a star. They are all caught up in the complicated and decidedly unromantic machinery of the theatre world, and she represents the innocence they've either forgotten (Marshall), lost (Fonda), or are in jeopardy of losing (Plummer). (Although again, as Strasberg plays her, the innocence seems like a put-on, a florid, elaborate joke.) Part of the pleasure of the film is seeing Plummer in one of his very first, pre-"Sound of Music" roles. A darkly compelling leading man during this time with brooding traces of the new method acting style, he and the old school Fonda work well together - there's an interesting "passing the torch" dynamic there.
But the real reason to see this film is the stunning location photography of New York City. The director, Sidney Lumet, has always loved the city just as much as Woody Allen, and here it is practically the star. There is an exquisite scene in a snow blanketed park (Central?) that is as vivid as being there.
There is an added poignancy to this picture as Strasberg's part as an actress on the verge of "making it" was, I believe, intended to neatly dovetail with her own emerging stardom. A stardom that was, alas, to be short-lived.
Poor Susan Strasberg. She had not an easy life. She was so lovely. But
her delivery in this movie - a remake of a Katharine Hepburn 30s
vehicle called "Morning Glory" - is simply not good. It doesn't help
that the script is a cliché of a cliché of a cliché, if there is such a
thing. Henry Fonda does the best he can with the bad, hoary lines. The
supporting cast of Joan Greenwood and Christopher Plummer are excellent
and fascinating as usual, but they're stuck with bad lines. In
Greenwood's case, bad lines complaining about bad lines!!! And even
though Fonda is good, you can't believe Susan would really go for him.
The best thing about the movie is the scene backstage towards the end when the show that might make Strasberg a star, is just about to start. The movie's director shows the stagehands being called their cues by the stage manager, and you get the suspense of what it's like to be backstage just before the curtain goes up.
The stage manager by the way is played by Jack Weston, who played a stage manager the next year in Douglas Sirk's "Imitation of Life," which is also about "the theatuh," and in its complex phoniness and artificiality it rings truer than "Stage Struck." Beloved Herbert Marshall is also in this movie and you can see very easily that he is really walking on a wooden leg.
The street scenes of New York are interesting in this movie. Also interesting is the name of a Greenwich Village nightclub where Strasberg cringingly reads poetry and verse: The Village Voice!
Before this film, I had seen Susan Strasberg in two late 1960s AIP
low-budget films 'The Trip' and 'Psych-Out' and enjoyed her
performances in both so was quite interested in seeing her in the
starring role here.
Alas, not only is she not up to the task, but she takes down the film with her. Her performance in the first 30 minutes or so is truly wretched; she's so strained and overwrought that it makes one cringe.
To be fair, from the time she does a reading from 'Romeo & Juliet' (which is quite charming) her performance settles down somewhat but the damage is done. After all, it's in the opening scenes where we're supposed to believe that she wins over Herbert Marshall as a close friend and enchants Plummer and Fonda but her performance kills any chance of that being convincing and the film never recovers.
However, the film is still fairly entertaining. While Fonda seems rather too genial to convince as a Broadway producer he's always entertaining to watch and helps hold the film together. And Joan Greenwood does a nice balancing act as she gives a melodramatic performance yet still lined with depth.
And, as other reviewers have mentioned, director Sidney Lumet puts in some nice touches with the detail he displays in the preparation that goes behind the scenes for opening night.
Also of interest is that it was released as an RKO picture and was probably close to the very last film released by that studio.
Some people are born with talent. Some can acquire it. Others can take
all the lessons in the world, and still not grasp that elusive "it".
And that's the problem with Susan Strasberg's performance: she clearly
understands the nuances and subtleties of acting, but cannot connect
that knowledge to the empathy and passion an actor must have to be
believable in their role.
When at the party, Eva Lovelace recites the balcony scene from "Romeo & Juliet", and the guests become transfixed, I was never sure if they were staring in awe or horror. Strasberg pauses and reflects on her words perfectly -- at these moments, one could believe she's Juliet watching and waiting for her lover's answers. But when she recites the words -- and a recitation is all it is -- the fire, the passion of Juliet for Romeo is non-existent. She could just as easily have been telling the doorman to call her a cab.
The most interesting aspect of the film was in watching the various methods of acting being presented. Herbert Marshall (who started in silents and early talkies), Henry Fonda (who started in film in the 1930s) and Christopher Plummer (one of the new method actors) are all believable in their roles and mesh seamlessly together. Then there's Strasberg, who is incapable of presenting even a fraction of the range of any of her co-stars. (Frankly, I didn't make the connection between her and her father, and wondered who she knew to have secured the role.) The film is interesting as a curio piece, and Lumet's brilliance in portraying New York's scenery. But as a moving story about the theatre, it can't touch "All About Eve".
Along with "All About Eve" this is one of the finest films dealing with the American theatre. I don't understand why it is a lost film and would urge anybody who enjoys great acting to hunt this film down any way they can. It is also about time it was released on video. Susan Strasberg was clearly one of Hollywood's casualties and it's tragic that the films she made after this were perhaps determined by the mediocre reaction at the time to this film.
Although Susan Strassberg has been unfairly compared to Katharine
Hepburn from the original Morning Glory, it's not quite a fair
comparison. Forgetting that there is no one like Hepburn, Strassberg
does do a decent job with the material given in Stage Struck. The
problem is that the story has been changed and not for the better.
Romance was added to this production and it weakens the basic story of a young girl who is so single minded in her determination to be a success in the theater. The characters played by Adolphe Menjou and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in Morning Glory are now played by Henry Fonda and Christopher Plummer. The producer and the playwright now engage in a rivalry for Strassberg which weakens the story.
In the original Morning Glory it's made clear from the beginning that Menjou is a love 'em and leave 'em type and he's really got no interest in Hepburn in that direction as he sees she's not the type. Pipe smoking Fairbanks after Hepburn makes good would like to get something going with her, but she's into her art first and for always.
But Fonda and Plummer have a civilized rivalry for Strassberg and the story is which one will she choose. That I'm not telling.
Stage Struck has some nice location shots of New York in the late Fifties, Broadway and the Greenwich Village area and a bit of Park Avenue. Joan Greenwood is here as the star who falters and allows Strassberg her big break. Greenwood's quirky personality that British films utilized so well is strangely missing here. Herbert Marshall is great as the older actor that C. Aubrey Smith played in Morning Glory.
Stage Struck is a nice film, but definitely a come down from Morning Glory.
Strasberg gives what is perhaps one of the worst performances by an actress
in an "A" film. Her acting is jaw-droppingly terrible, and "over-the-top"
is too kind of a phrase. She obviously took her father's instruction to
heart - he being Lee Strasberg of the Actor's Studio. The
"waiting-for-the-reviews" party during the first thirty-minutes of the film
actually contains a cring-worthy rendition of the famous balcony scene from
"Romeo & Juliet."
Of course, director Lumet has a tendency to allow his performers to chew the scenery. Fonda is an exception, though. He provides his usual subdued interpretation. Plummer comes across quite nicely, as well.
However, the "romantic" conclusion is totally ridiculous, as there is zero chemistry between the characters who finally end up with one another.
I forced myself to watch this film till the end, but it wasn't easy. Not surprisingly, Strasberg's career eventually settled into "B" movies, and hammy TV roles.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Was Susan Strasberg over the top? Absolutely.
I made the mistake of not turning the TV off while preparing for bed and Stage Struck came on. I thought I'd just watch a moment or two and hit the sack.
Well, I watched the whole thing. I couldn't turn it off.
Susan Strasberg was most certainly over the top. But, the amazing feat was that Eva was not totally and completely obnoxious. Instead, she was lovely and thoroughly likable. (Unlike Katherine Hepburn who made Eva obnoxious in Morning Glory.)
I agree about the chemistry bit - there was none between Fonda and Strasberg. On the other hand, wasn't that the way it was supposed to be? They didn't end up as a couple in the end. Fonda clearly was infatuated with Eva, but what he really loved was her talent.
There wasn't any romance in the movie - it was more about never making the romantic connection. Fonda gets his hit, Plummer is now a director to match his success as a playwright, and Strasberg is launched as a potentially great star.
The beauty of it is that, because Fonda and Strasberg, and Plummer and Strasber only stuck their toes in the romantic waters, the movie ends with us knowing that the three of them will be great friends and that the truly obnoxious Rita Vernon as delightfully played by Joan Greenwood has been edged out by the much more appealing Eva.
There was great chemistry between Herbert Marshall and Susan Strasberg. That was the real romance in the film - they regarded each other with such warmth. Herbert Marshall went from "Who the Hell is this naive creature" to caring deeply for her.
Susan Strasberg plays Eva Lovelace, an aspiring Broadway actress possessed by some theatric god that directs her to precisely pronounce and deliver each and every word with impeccable timing. She comes to New York by way of Vermont where she performed in numerous summer stock productions and her persistence and personality capture the attention of playwright Joe Sheridan (Peter Cushing) and actor Robert Marley Hedges (Herbert Marshall). Producer Lewis Easton (Henry Fonda) tells her to study the Actor's Studio (would that be Lee Strasberg's school of method acting?) but she doesn't want to dilute her gift by having it altered in an acting school. Strasberg's performance makes and at times almost breaks this picture. It manages to annoy and captivate, often simultaneously. When she delivers Juliet's lines on the stairway of Easton's swank townhome after drinking four or five glasses of Champaigne in front of a party of theater luminaries, it knocks you out. It is as if Eva Lovelace is playing Susan Strasberg. In any event, she (Strasberg) has an unusual beauty and sincerity that come shining through in spite of the theatrics.
I happened upon this movie and found it so moving. Mostly it was the performances but a large part of the reason I loved it was the pictures obvious love for the Theatre. A love I share. In the film, Fonda is amazing. Complicated and 3D, subtle and larger than life. Ms Strassberg, though vocally somewhat stiff and mannered is so alive and vibrant, young and beautiful. I thought her Juliet speech was again vocally stiff, but inside of that was an amazing, young, excited, perfect Juliet. Every word was felt and communicated in an immediate sincere way that is hardly ever achieved in the role. The detail of THEATRE in NEW YORK in the 50's is wonderful. The Stageheands reading the paper as they flip switches, the STAGE DOOR, curtain calls, the adrenaline of opening night. I could go on and on, but as one who loves backstage type melodrama this one is a feast.
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