Like other behind-the-scenes tales of the theatrical life, Stage Door follows the personal and professional ups and downs of the diverse residents of the Footlights Club: an extraordinarily talented actress, Kaye Hamilton (Andrea Leeds), who may never experience another moment in the spotlight after an impressive performance 12 months ago; a wisecracking working-class girl, Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers); a spoiled beauty, Linda Shaw (Gail Patrick), whose illicit relationship with a Broadway stage producer gets her furs and jewels but little more; and the stranger who enters their midst, heiress Terry Randall (Katharine Hepburn), a classically trained, Shakespeare-obsessed thespian. The cutting remarks and tension that could only be fostered in an all-girl dormitory are unleashed when Terry meets her new roommate, the spirited and feisty Jean, who objects to Terry's theatrical pretensions and rich girl slumming.
Determined to make it in the theater without financial help from her wealthy father, Terry ends up stealing a coveted role from the talented, dejected Kaye in a production of Enchanted April which, unbeknownst to Terry, has been bankrolled by her father. This blow to Kaye's floundering career turns out to have devastating consequences that set up the moving, emotional denouement to the movie.
A frank, beautifully realized backstage film about the competitiveness and solidarity fostered in this household of actresses, Stage Door captures the energy and promise a life on the stage holds for these eager young starlets. Many reviewers at the time of the film's release remarked on the absence of a love story in Stage Door, though most felt the feminine camaraderie and wisecracking more than made up for that lack.The film was adapted from a stage play by Edna Ferber (Giant (1956)) and George S. Kaufman (Animal Crackers , Dinner at Eight, ), a theatrical hit which many considered inferior to the crackling dialogue and quick-paced plot offered in screenwriters Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller's revamped screenplay.
Terry's stage debut, Enchanted April, was, in fact, a rewrite of the Broadway show The Lake, in which Hepburn also starred. Hepburn's performance in The Lake was notorious for prompting Algonquin Round Table writer Dorothy Parker to famously quip that she "ran the gamut of emotions from A to B."
Though Hepburn had recently fallen into a typecasting rut, playing in elaborate costume pictures like Little Women (1933) and Mary of Scotland (1936), and was later called "box-office poison" by movie exhibitors, she holds her own against some notable talent in Stage Door. The film helped demonstrate Hepburn's actorly range via the show-stopping performance in Enchanted April that gives the film its tragic resonance and dramatic power. Though its expensive production cost of $900,000 meant the film never quite lived up to its economic potential, it was a certified critical success, garnering Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Screenplay, Director and Supporting Actress (Leeds). The film boasted impressive acting work not only from Leeds, Hepburn and Rogers, but from a strong supporting cast of rising talents including Ann Miller as Rogers' dancing partner, Lucille Ball, comedian Eve Arden, Grady Sutton and future screenwriter Jean Rouverol.
Called "a brilliant picture" by the New York Times, Stage Door was singled out for its ability to wed very different moods, from the wisecracking irreverence of Rogers and her boardinghouse sorority sisters, to the genuinely heartbreaking pathos of professional disappointments and the make-or-break demands of the acting profession. Or as the New Republic enthused in 1937, Stage Door is a "delight" with its "extremes of making you laugh and tearing your heart out."
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Gregory La Cava
Screenplay: Morrie Ryskind, Anthony Veiller and Gregory La Cava, based on the play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman
Cinematography: Robert de Grasse
Production Design: Van Nest Polglase and Carroll Clark
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Terry Randall), Ginger Rogers (Jean Maitland), Adolphe Menjou (Anthony Powell), Gail Patrick (Linda Shaw), Constance Collier (Catherine Luther), Andrea Leeds (Kaye Hamilton), Lucille Ball (Judy Canfield), Eve Arden (Eve), Ann Miller (Annie), Gail Patrick (Linda Shaw), Samuel S. Hinds (Henry Sims).
BW-91m. Closed Captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Felicia Feaster