Ack! There are so many films on TV at the moment, I’m starting to fall behind… at this rate I won’t get to watch any of the DVDs I picked up in the pre-Xmas sales until sometime around March! It’s easy to get seduced by all the shiny new listings in the TV guide, but I’m making a concerted effort to clear my digibox backlog, which today means checking out an old-timey b&w flick called Stage Door (1937). For those who don’t know, this Oscar-nominated dramedy centres around a boarding house for aspiring actresses in New York City, and boasts a host of famous faces, including Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball!
Rogers plays ‘Jean Maitland’, a snarky dancer who is forced to share her room with a snobby new arrival, named ‘Terry Randall’ (Hepburn). Although they both get equal billing here, I’d have to say that Rogers is the standout for me… aside from a disappointing scene where she plays a little too ditsy/tipsy while being wooed by a wealthy, predatory producer, she makes for a fantastically feisty and flippant lead, whose banter with the other girls flew past so fast my brain couldn’t keep up (and neither could the subtitles)! Hepburn, on the other hand, gives a very selfish and disconnected performance… she frequently steps on other people’s lines, and barely even seems to pay attention when someone else is talking. Her monologue near the end is pretty powerful, but her scenes with Rogers are a lot less sparky than they should be. Thankfully, Jean’s other gal-pals are a much more fun: Ball plays ‘Judith’, another fast-talkin’ smart-arse who seems more interested in landing a wealthy husband than learning lines, and Ann Miller plays Jean’s chirpy dance partner ‘Annie’ (Fun fact: Apparently Miller was only 14 when she auditioned for the role, but she was so tall and self-assured that no one thought to double-check her fake birth certificate!). Despite these few bright spots, the whole thing is a bit of a shaggy-dog story, and a subplot involving a supposedly super-talented actress (played by Andrea Leeds) falling behind in her rent and missing meals results in some unintentionally-hilarious melodrama, which really spoils what could have been quite a lively showbizzy romp.
But then, I’m biased towards comedy, and can’t help thinking what an awesome sitcom this would make… an all-female cross between Fawlty Towers and Fame! Make it so.