Thursday, April 07, 2005

Stage Door

1937, US, directed by Gregory La Cava

A near-perfect example of 1930's comedy, this is a mostly light-as-a-feather backstage affair, set primarily in a boarding house for aspiring, and sometimes declining, Broadway actresses (it must be right around the corner from the theatres, since the players routinely leave for work less than an hour before the curtain comes up). Katharine Hepburn is, in a surprising bit of casting, an upper-crust heiress keen to try her luck on the boards; her entrance into a house full of less polished characters, most notably Ginger Rogers, is the occasion for much biting wit on both sides, although as luck would have it everyone slowly learns to get along. There's an undercurrent of melodrama in the house, which becomes overt towards the end - not entirely successfully. Just as the deus ex machina seems entirely too convenient, the film tries to have it both ways; the 'second ending' seems more honest than the first. Whatever the shortcomings of the structure, the cast, well-served by director La Cava, are top-notch: there's barely a wrong note in the whole film, which establishes the diverse characters with remarkable efficiency, and gives ample time to each of a range of fine actresses (Constance Collier is an especially effective scene-stealer).

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States