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Friday, July 8, 2016

STAGE DOOR (1937)

Tremendous entertainment, and much improved from the Edna Ferber/George S. Kaufman play, a dramedy set in-and-around a ladies’ theatrical rooming house (57 W. 58 St.) bursting with wisecracks, a story you can get behind, sentiment, tragedy & triumph; plus a not-to-be-missed all-star cast of characters that includes Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Jack Carson & Ann Miller, all in top form. After setting up the house vibe (horseplay/auditions/comradery/lamb-stew), undersung director Gregory La Cava (just off MY MAN GODFREY/’36) brings on Hepburn’s rich society gal, out to give acting a try against her father’s wishes and mingle with the hoi polloi. A real rara avis, but also the real thing, as becomes apparent once she lets her guard down. For Hepburn, it’s the rare sympathetic role where she isn’t pulled off a pedestal to win us over, instead pulling everyone up. The film is something of a feminist slant on one of those Howard Hawks’ manly group unit pics (think ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINDS/’39 or AIR FORCE/’43), right down to the rattling pace and dialogue with everyone talking over each other. But what a difference in the range of women La Cava lets in compared to Hawks’ fixation on tall, lean androgynous types with smoky voices. La Cava’s camera style is also less static, fluid, even showy when needed. With a script loaded with sassy comebacks & situations that remain screamingly funny, and dramatic twists clever enough to move & surprise, it’s one of the champs from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

DOUBLE-BILL: Hepburn followed up with BRINGING UP BABY/’38 and HOLIDAY/’38, two classics that inexplicably flopped badly enough to send her to B’way for a comeback in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY/’40.

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