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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 <email@example.com>
John Barrymore did not memorize any of his lines for the film, but read them from a blackboard. He never missed a cue or muffed a speech, which is credited for bringing in the film 5 days ahead of schedule, thereby saving the studio an estimated $25,000. See more »
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; it's just a lousy film.
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