Tuesday, March 9, 2010

1937 - Stage Door

As is probably evident, I love the Oscars. Unwaveringly. Unconditionally. In an utterly pig-headed defensive sort of way. I'm not even sure what it is exactly that I love so much. It's not the glitz or glamour (although I'm sure that's part of it). Perhaps it is the prestige. Or maybe it's just that it combines two of my favourite things: movies and statistics. In any case, I love the Oscars.

However, if you are so inclined, you'll always be able to find something to complain about ... The awards were given to all the wrong people ... They snubbed my favourite movie ... The ceremony was too long ... too boring ... too gaudy ... too fake. Not me, though. Try as they might, the Academy will never lose favour with me. They can give an American Idol contestant an Oscar. They can allow late-night personalities to host the ceremony. They can omit Farrah Fawcett from the In Memoriam montage. They can turn Norbit into an Oscar-nominated film. No matter what, I love the Oscars. I accept the subjectivity of the winners. I accept the artistic intentions of the show's producers. They'll never please all of the people all of the time. But they can please me all of the time. The Oscars are like my Disneyland. I'll say it again. I love the Oscars.

On Oscar Day this year, I had the girlishly exciting experience of holding one of the golden statuettes at a public exhibit presented by the Academy and Kodak here in New York. Quite a thrill, I assure you.

Then, for the telecast, Kat and I hosted a few friends at our annual Oscars party, at which we served dishes inspired by this year's nominees. For your amusement, I present to you the menu.

In Oscar's aftermath, I travelled back to 1937 to watch another Best Picture nominee from that year....

Stage Door
Gregory La Cava
Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller
(based on the play by Edna Ferber & George S. Kaufman)
Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou
Academy Awards:
4 nominations
0 wins

Terry Randall (Hepburn) arrives in New York City with dreams of being a Broadway actress. She finds accommodation at the Footlights Club, a boarding house for theatre types, mostly young women, where she rooms with Jean Maitland (Rogers). The two are not the happiest of roommates, especially when Terry muscles in on Jean's relationship with big shot Broadway manager/producer Anthony Powell (Menjou).

Snappy is an understatement when describing Stage Door's dialogue. The rapid fire repartee is thick - and I mean thick - with sarcasm. From the first scene, it barrels along like the announcer of a horse race. Each young wannabe actress is more caustic than the last and they always have a biting one-liner ready to go at a moment's notice. There's very little time to breathe at all for a good part of the movie, it moves that fast. Quite a feat, considering physical action is a rare occurrence throughout the film's 90-minute running time. It truly is all due to the script's fast-paced dialogue.

The cast must be acknowledged for their aptitude in delivering this lingual roller coaster. They talk over each other constantly yet there is a precision to it. To make it more difficult, many scenes involve at least a half dozen girls. Still, they manage to keep the pace at a steady gallop. Colour me impressed.

After a while, though, this constant lexical energy begins to feel a tad one-dimensional. As remarkable as it is, it retains the same level for ninety percent of the film. Towards the end, the story takes a serious turn, but rather than being a refreshing change, it's just slightly too tragic. And it happens so late in the film that there's no real time to recover the humour, so there's a tiny depressing taste left in one's mouth. Although, Andrea Leeds euphorically ascending the stairs hearing echoes of her memories is a very effective shot indeed.

Katharine Hepburn takes part in her second Matt vs. the Academy year in a row (from the previous 1981 to the current 1937 - not many performers will achieve a feat of that longevity). She and Ginger Rogers display such intelligence in these roles. Neither allow their characters to become stereotypically naive young girls. A young Lucille Ball is especially delightful to watch, delivering the sharpest wit of the group. And two other future showbiz stars, Eve Arden and Ann Miller, take on small roles as well.


  1. Good God I love this movie, so lovely. And I don't usually love Ginger, but she's great here...and Kate...what can I say? A genius.

  2. Cool picture, Matt. Did music start playing 30 seconds after you took the stage to let you know your time was up? :)

    What a breath of fresh air Stage door is. For the second year in a row, Director Gregory La Cava has given us a winner. I'll have more to say about the previous year's My Man Godfrey, even though it won't be part of 1936's line-up - a shameful omission.

    The screen-writer's took George S. Kaufman's skewering of Hollywood and made it about Broadway - a clever move. It's true that with three primary settings, the boarding house, bachelor pad and the theater, Stage Door isn't particularly cinematic. However, the script, direction and especially the ensemble acting make up for it.

    While the sarcasm gives way to tragedy at the end, the shift isn't a abrupt as it may seem. Every time Andrea Leeds is on screen it portends to the dramatic turn of events. Leeds is very good in a role made for Olivia de Havilland. Ginger Rogers and Katherine Hepburn compliment each other so well, and it is hard not to get a tear in the eye at the end. Not too many films from 1937 hold up as well as Stage Door - a definite contender for Best Picture form me.