I feel I've been lax in viewing classic films lately, and sought to quickly remedy that with Stage Door, a female-driven comedy/drama that features a knockout cast of actresses. Revolving around a boarding house catering to young stage actresses in New York City, the story drifts in and out of the lives of a host of chatty budding starlets trying to survive the Depression. Terry Randall (Katharine Hepburn), a wealthy, educated woman enters the house with no training and every intention of becoming an instant success, but she alienates many of the other lodgers with her affected way of speaking and overly pragmatic personality.
Jean Maitlind (Ginger Rogers) is a sharp-tongued dancer who strikes up a convenient romance with big-time producer and professional asshole Anthony Powell (Adolphe Menjou). Having made a name for herself in a successful play the previous year, Kay (Gail Patrick) is now struggling to even land auditions and forgoes meals to save money. Judith (Lucille Ball) suffers through dates with older men visiting from Seattle so she'll have a free dinner, while girls like cat-lover Eve (Eve Arden) and dancer Annie (Ann Miller) are ever-present in the background for a good wisecrack.
Stage Door boasts a large ensemble cast and a character-driven plot interwoven with Depression-era commentary about the importance of theater and the hope it instills. While some of the various subplots can be a little contrived or uninteresting, the clever dialogue and realistic subject matter lend credibility and imagination to the script. I loved just listening to these women speak, remarking upon life's ups and downs always with a quick joke on hand. The cast has a very improvisational, familiar chemistry (probably helped by improv sessions from which some of the dialogue was written), and it was great to see the sparks fly between so many talented actresses thrown together into one room.
I'll be honest, I'd watch anything for Ginger Rogers. She just floors me in everything she does, and handles her role here with wit, pluck, and oodles of charisma. Yes, of course I adore Katharine Hepburn and she certainly shines as the overly-mannered and outspoken Terry, but it's Ginger that kept me riveted. The two share several excellent scenes together and I loved the pairing. Also notable is a young Lucille Ball, who credits the film as her breakout performance. Having only seen her on I Love Lucy, I barely recognized her, but found her instantly likable. The most insane appearance was from Ann Miller, who was fourteen at the time, pretending to be 18 to get the part. She holds her own against Ginger Rogers during a short dance number and I was really impressed. Aside from being absolutely adorable, the lady had balls, you guys.
With a punchy script, a touching dramatic climax, and a cast that resulted in several squeals of "Oh! LOVE HER!", Stage Door is an incredibly enjoyable film. It is rooted in its time for its money-conscious rhetoric, but its relatable and clever dialogue is suitable for any period.
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