Stage Door

Dir: Gregory La Cava, 1937. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou. Classics.
Stage Door
Stage Door is the rarest kind of film—a film about young women that doesn’t revolve around men. Instead, and perhaps not surprising given what has historically been green lit under the auspices of the term “women’s picture,” the great object of their collective affection is the euphoria of stardom. What these gals really belong to is the third sex—they’re actors. In some cases they are wannabe actors or dreamers and there is an entire New York boarding house full of them. Girls from the sticks and girls with rich fathers, all having come to the big city in pursuit of Broadway glory.

The cast is something of a miracle in that so many of them became showbiz legends later though here their brilliance is already on full display. The cast includes Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, the almighty Eve Arden, and even Lucille Ball. All are uniformly excellent to the point that one could get whiplash from the wisecracks. And boy do the zingers come fast and furious.  The bitchiness is leveled with charm, though, because they’re just kids trying to get along in a city that tends to crush more dreams than it fulfills. The film presents the life of a young actress trying to succeed in New York as one of almost constant rejection with the added complication of having to contend with the advances of lecherous producers.  But somehow they soldier on because of that blend of hope and chutzpah essential to the profession. They go on dates, they go out for auditions, and they learn to rely on one another when they’re not busy trading insults.

The delicate bonds of pseudo-sisterhood get tested when a newcomer enters the house and while most of the girls are doe-eyed dreamers without two nickels to rub together their new addition is a well connected rich girl trying to go incognito while she attempts to test her mettle in the real world. Katharine Hepburn brings her Yankee patrician boldness to the role of Terry Randall, a young lady with a lot to prove who is oblivious to the world that surrounds her culture of privilege and who clashes fast with roommate Jean (a flawless Ginger Rogers). Through some histrionic plot contrivances, Terry receives her comeuppance before redeeming herself in the eyes of her boarding housemates and her newfound theatrical audience.

The movie goes a bit heavy towards the end but that’s not what matters. The real pleasure of this movie is watching several first rate actors trade some of the best barbs any Hollywood writer ever came up with while still staying entirely endearing because ultimately it’s a story of young women sticking together to persevere against the odds. Unlike George Cukor’s The Women the film isn’t the bitchy bloodbath it might have been. Not to knock The Women, but its delight in the cruelty of its Park Avenue sociopaths grows tiresome. In this film, the girls are just stage struck kids navigating the pitfalls of life together. They’re broke but ambitious and with far more than landing a man on their minds.  That alone makes the film a kind of feminist classic not to mention a classic of the Depression era, too.


Stage Door was nominated for 4 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Andrea Leeds), Best Director (Gregory La Cava), Best Screenplay (Morrie Ryskind, Anthony Veiller).

Posted by:
Jed Leland
Aug 17, 2011 5:06pm
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