Cleveland 1951. Pre-med student Artie Shoemaker dreams not so much of a medical career but a life in the theater, against the wishes of his working class parents. Despite having no ...
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Cleveland 1951. Pre-med student Artie Shoemaker dreams not so much of a medical career but a life in the theater, against the wishes of his working class parents. Despite having no experience in the theater whatsoever, he is hired as the props man at the Kempton Hills Park Theater, an open air venue that is part of the summer stock circuit. The resident leading man at Kempton Hills is Harry Crystal who, along with some of the other more experienced company members, is working toward more lucrative and higher profile acting jobs. For most, including Harry, the goal is back to Broadway. For some, that Broadway dream is more a delusion than a true possibility. Despite being a bit of a divo, which grates on many of the other crew members, Harry takes inexperienced Artie under his wing both in terms of guiding him through his current position in props, as well as a general life in the theater. Part of that general life includes romantic couplings, the person who Artie ultimately chooses, ...Written by
And what is its genre? The backstage expose story; what theatrical life is really like behind those Broadway (and other) curtains. It certainly has a lot of competition: Singin' in the Rain both I and II (1929 and 1952), 42nd Street, Golddiggers of (You name the year.); Dames of 1934; Noises Off (1992) from the farcical side and A Star is Born I and II from the 1930s and the 1950s from the tragical side: not to mention Summer Stock of 1950: the list keeps rollin' along. So what makes this movie so special? And why are there so few comments about this stunningly great movie? Have so few people actually seen it? How amazing to see a younger Frank Langella pre-Dracula and pre-Frost-Nixon by 30 years! How amazing to see the fresh and talented Tom Hulce so pre-Amadeus! And yet another superb Stiller! What a wonderful line-up of talented people at their very best from so long ago! And such a script! Who was this David Shaber? So full of realistic disillusion and pathos compared to the usual sentimentality and feel-good comedy! As especially exemplified by the Star-Is-Born-like episode where the heroine achieves Broadway while the Langella character has to content himself with still another provincial tour.
Langella's subsequent hysterical and sadistic blowup against the star-struck Latin teacher and his granddaughter in which he vents his fury and frustration is just one of many fantastic and psychologically real moments in the film. (The Latin teacher and his love affair with backstage life certainly echo Marlene Dietrich and her seduced professor in The Blue Angel of 1929.) Another in the series of mercenary and cold-hearted agents like the late Kevin McCarthy who was preceded by Burt Lancaster in The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and succeeded by Alan Alda in Clubland (2001) in movie history. The sexual liberation of the Hulce character recalls similar incidents in O'Neill's great comedy Ah, Wilderness.
And what a tribute to the vanished operettas of long ago: The Red Mill of Victor Herbert; Rose Marie and The Vagabond King of Rudolf Friml; The Desert Song of Sigmund Romberg etc. What satirical insertions of bits from the great plays like Romeo and Juliet. Tributes to the theater itself as expostulated by the star Langella. The richness and depth of this movie are simply endless. And to be saddled by such a title! Who could have an inkling of what this great movie is about from such a ridiculous and unsuggestive title? But on the other hand, what title could one have applied to such a magnificent drama which might have lived up to its stirring, emotional content?
PS: I just saw (2009) Frank Langella in his latest acting spectacular: as Richard Nixon in Frost-Nixon. How this great actor after 30 years simply goes from triumph to triumph!
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