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November 2010

Stage Door

cast: Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn, Adolphe Mejou, Andrea Leeds, and Constance Collier

director: Gregory La Cava

97 minutes (U) 1937
Odeon DVD Region 2

RATING: 8/10
review by Max Cairnduff


Stage Door DVD region 1

Stage Door

RKO Pictures... It is extraordinary how many good movies came out of this studio. King Kong, Top Hat, Citizen Kane, Cat People, Fort Apache... I could easily go on. RKO made some of the most influential horror movies out there, and some of the best screwball comedies.

Stage Door is a film about a group of out of work actresses who live together in a boarding house. They spend their days complaining about the food, complaining about each other, and trying to get to see famed theatrical agent Anthony Powell (Adolphe Mejou). The only one of them who does get to see him, though, is Linda Shaw (Gail Patrick) who's his latest conquest. To the others, he's never in his office and even Linda doesn't seem to be getting much work out of the deal.

Sassiest of a very sassy bunch is Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers). She's smart and funny, but she's not getting much more work than anyone else. When newcomer Terry Randall (Katherine Hepburn) turns up in the house with her cut-glass accent and money to burn she becomes Jean's roommate and the two are forced together. What follows is some of very sharp dialogue and an on-screen pairing that's just a joy to watch.

Not everyone at the house is waiting to be discovered. Kay Hamilton (Andrea Leeds) was a big hit last year but, this year, she is having to skip meals so as to make ends meet and, though everyone agrees she was a smash, she's not done much lately. Catherine Luther (Constance Collier) is an ageing has-been, full of tales of her long ago successes, and the only one to take to Terry Randall at all.

Sex, ambition, hunger, it's all here. There was a lot couldn't be shown on screen in 1937, but Stage Door leaves no doubt about exactly what Anthony Powell gets in return for adopting actresses and furthering their careers. As Kay Hamilton desperately seeks an audience with him so she can audition for his new play, his only interest is in Jean Maitland who he has in mind to replace Linda Shaw. Of course, he hasn't seen Terry Randall yet...

The cast of Stage Door is almost uniformly good. Anthony Powell is convincingly charming despite being a distinctly questionable character. Ginger Rogers shows she deserves to be remembered as far more than just half of Fred and Ginger and Katherine Hepburn is on her usual stellar form. The supporting actors are equally strong. There's some wonderful back and forth between Patrick and Rogers as Anthony Powell's affections transfer from Linda Shaw to Jean Maitland and Constance Collier makes her ageing actress likeable even when absurd.

The weakest point for me was Andrea Leeds, which is ironic given she was nominated for an Oscar for her role here. The problem isn't so much her performance as her part. Kay is a tragic figure who just doesn't get any of the witty lines that the rest of the cast get to enjoy, and it's just not as much fun watching her downward slide as it is watching the others bicker and backchat. Kay is also by far the most virtuous of the women at the boarding house, which again can't help but make her a bit dull.

That's a quibble though, because Stage Door is an absolute classic. If you have a fondness for films such as His Girl Friday, or The Philadelphia Story then I highly recommend it. My only real caveat would be the picture and sound quality, both of which have definitely suffered. My score of eight reflects the quality of the film, but I gave serious thought to knocking it down to a seven due to the sometimes muddy sound and occasional scratches and marks on the film.

The DVD comes with a photo gallery and the original trailer. Interestingly, the trailer gives Adolphe Menjou equal billing with Rogers and Hepburn. To be fair though, he earns it.



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