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Stepping Sisters

Stepping Sisters(1932)

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Cissie Ramsay, formerly Cissie Black, the burlesque queen, works to assure herself and her daughter Norma a respectable position in society, despite her husband Herbert's boorish ways. As Cissie plans an upcoming benefit for a home for homeless dogs and cats, Herbert produces a picture of her wearing tights to remind her of her true background and to blackmail her into leaving him out of the arrangements, as none of her society friends are aware of her unusual past. At a garden party for Ambassador Leonard, Mrs. Tremaine, a high-society lady, gives Cissie a copy of her allegorical play which is to be performed at the upcoming benefit. The pompous Shakespearean actress, Lady Chetworth-Lynde, then arrives to perform the starring role. She and Cissie steal away, at which point Lady Chetworth-Lynde reveals her true identity as "Queenie," one of Cissie's old burlesque pals. Next, Rosie La Marr of "La Marr's Bounding Bells" arrives, and Cissie faints when she sees this third "stepping" sister. The three agree to keep their past association a secret. Norma tells Jack Hartley, her secret boyfriend, that she suspects her mother was a chorus girl in her youth. Warren Termaine, an avid astrologer who is unofficially engaged to Norma, arrives, and tells Jack that he is astrologically unsuited for Norma. As the clandestine reunion of the stepping sisters ensues at Cissie's house, she reveals to her old friends that she pretends to be a society lady in order to assure her daughter a happy life. When Herbert arrives home, Rosie addresses him as "Chummy," the name Cissie knows she calls the gentleman she has been seeing. Cissie berates her husband and is about to give up on organizing the benefit when she sees a picture of Norma and remembers her commitment. Herbert begs Rosie to talk to his wife and tell her the truth, that they are only friends who occasionally go to ballgames, an activity in which his wife refuses to participate. With the promised help of Queenie, Rosie offers to manipulate a reunion between the arguing couple. Herbert now threatens divorce, convinced he can no longer live with his wife's society business. The benefit begins as a great success, with Jack performing in addition to other Broadway professionals. After his number, Jack asks Norma one last time to marry him. Thinking of her mother's position, she refuses and he tells her goodbye. Queenie and Rosie, who were to appear as the League of Nations and the American National Debt in Mrs. Tremaine's allegory, show up instead in elaborate burlesque queen costumes. As Mrs. Tremaine demands that the curtain be lowered, Rosie and Queenie prance about the room chucking men below their chins, kicking and wiggling their bodies. Backstage, Mrs. Tremaine notices that Cissie refers to the women with familiarlity and caustically suggests that Cissie was once a burlesque player herself, causing Norma to defend her mother. Cissie, surprised and happy to learn that Norma accepts her past, heaps contumely upon Mrs. Tremaine about the evils of high society. Cissie then turns on Rosie, who convinces her that she and Herbert are only friends and then admits that she maneuvered the burlesque play in order to save the Ramsey marriage. Back at the Ramsey home, Ambassador Leonard calls on the group, telling them how much he enjoyed the show. The ladies serve the men cold cuts and beer in the kitchen and promise to abandon pretense forever. When Queenie begins spouting Shakespeare, however, Rosie hits her in the face with limburger cheese.