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Star of the Month: Dick Powell
Remind Me
,Stage Struck

Stage Struck

Henry Fonda had a lot of reasons for accepting his role as a suave theatrical producer in RKO's 1958 Stage Struck. With production planned entirely for New York City, a rarity for Hollywood at the time, it allowed him to continue living in the Big Apple and stay in close contact with his beloved Broadway. It also gave him a chance to re-unite with director Sidney Lumet, with whom he had just scored a big critical success on 12 Angry Men (1957). Unfortunately, neither of these reasons translated into a box office hit. Although the film provided a rare chance for Fonda to play a sophisticated, worldly man similar to his off-screen character and created a loving portrait of New York City, it was just another box-office failure for RKO pictures in the late '50s. The studio would go out of business within two years of its release.

Stage Struck was a remake of Morning Glory (1933), the film that won Katharine Hepburn an Oscar® for only her third picture. This time out, the role of an aspiring actress who'll give up anything -- even love -- to become a star went to another actress making her third screen appearance, Susan Strasberg. Strasberg had scored a hit on Broadway with the leading role in The Diary of Anne Frank. Her first two screen roles, as troubled teens in The Cobweb and Picnic (both 1955), had garnered more attention for her family connections; she was the daughter of legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg. Writers Ruth and Augustus Goetz even inserted a few lines about his Actors Studio into their script for Stage Struck. Strasberg was thrilled to be working with Fonda, whom she had admired on stage in Mister Roberts. However, she was so short she couldn't kiss him without standing on a box.

The cast combined actors at the beginnings and ends of their careers. Herbert Marshall, who played a senior actor impressed with Strasberg's talents, had been making films for more than three decades. For him, Stage Struck was an oasis in a career that had begun drifting into B-grade genre films. The same year, he would share the screen with Vincent Price in The Fly, a film so ludicrous the two actors couldn't look at each other during their final scene without laughing. In her second American film, British star Joan Greenwood played a temperamental stage star modeled on Tallulah Bankhead. The same year, she would play another egocentric diva as Auntie Mame's best friend, Vera Charles. Making his film debut was Christopher Plummer, already an acclaimed stage actor for performances in the classics. Although he would continue building his career on stage, as the devil in Archibald MacLeish's J.B., and television, as a wounded veteran in love with Irish nun Julie Harris in Little Moon of Alban, it would take several years for Plummer to score a similar success on screen. It came when he starred opposite Julie Andrews in the box-office smash The Sound of Music (1965).

Lumet turned Stage Struck into a love letter to his home city, filming scenes in Greenwich Village, Times Square and Central Park. To keep the production entirely in New York, he rented studio space on 26th Street for interiors. Helping greatly in capturing the city's atmosphere was cinematographer Franz Planer. The Austrian born cameraman was probably best known for his use of a moving camera and deep shadows on three films with director Max Ophuls, Liebelei (1933), The Exile (1947) and RKO'S Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Although he would never win an Oscar®, he had scored three Golden Globes in a row, for Champion (1949), Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) and Death of a Salesman (1951). On Stage Struck, he surprised Lumet by insisting on shooting a scene in Central Park during a blinding snowstorm. The results were spectacular and the cinematography was one of few things about Stage Struck to draw consistently favorable reviews. Most critics, however, felt that the plot had become irrelevant and dated since Hepburn had played it 25 years earlier. They also were quick to point out that Strasberg was no Hepburn, complaining that her performance was a little too mannered and passionless for the role. Some on-set observers have suggested the problem lay with her mother, acting coach Paula Srasberg, who worked with her on the role throughout the shoot. They felt her mother's coaching -- and the fear of her father's disapproval -- stifled her. As a result, the film and Strasberg never caught on at the box office.

Producer: Stuart Millar
Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: Ruth and Augustus Goetz, based on the Play Morning Glory by Zoe Akins
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Art Direction: Kim Edgar Swadon
Music: Alex North
Cast: Henry Fonda (Lewis Easton), Susan Strasberg (Eva Lovelace), Joan Greenwood (Rita Vernon), Herbert Marshall (Robert Marley Hedges), Christopher Plummer (Joe Sheridan), Pat Harrington, Jr. (Benny), Frank Campanella (Benny), John Fiedler (Adrian), Jack Weston (Frank), Sally Gracie (Elizabeth), Roger C. Carmel (Stagehand).
C-95m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller



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