Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eve Harrington and a face

It doesn't show up too often, but the Fox Movie Channel is showing The Great Profile tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM ET.

John Barrymore stars as Evans Garrick, a character who is essentially a parody of Barrymore himself: an actor who's become a drunk whose drunkenness threatens to ruin any production he appears in, and who's about to lose his wife in the process. One night after a three-day bender, he's back home thinking he's been working on a Shakespeare film when aspiring young playwright Mary Maxwell (Anne Baxter around age 18) visits him with a play she wants somebody to stage. It's crap, but Evans' agent (Gregory Ratoff) needs the money a new production could bring in, and Mary's fiancé (John Payne) is willing to put up the money. And the play would be a huge disaster if it weren't for one thing -- Evans' drunkenness. In theory, his showing up drunk for the premiere should ruin things, but the material is so bad that Evans' drunken improvisations turn the dreck into sparkling comedy. Indeed, it's successful enough that the estranged Mrs. Garrick returns looking for a piece of the action.

Unfortunately, Mary has bigger ideas. She's deluded into thinking that it's actually her play that's good, and not a drunk Evans pulling it off. She has dreams of getting the play produced in New York, which would also mean a comeback for Evans. However, she doesn't want Evans' ad-libbing to "ruin" the play, and she tries to sober him up along the way, getting him to take the play as the serious, high-minded drama she intended. Of course, she doesn't realize that this would turn the play into a complete flop. Meanwhile, this also causes some romantic tension as a sober Evans thinks about dumping his wife in favor of Mary!

The Great Profile is an interesting little movie, in part because much of it mirrors what actually happened to Barrymore late in his stage career. It's not just the alcoholism, but also being abandoned by his wife, only for her to return when the play he was in turned out to be a success. The movie is highly uneven, in no small part because of Barrymore's real-life alcoholism; apparently he read all his lines off of cue cards. Still, the movie is well worth watching, even if Barrymore gave much better screen performances earlier in his career (Dinner at Eight, in which John Barrymore also played an alcoholic actor, comes immediately to mind). Unfortunately, The Great Profile hasn't made its way to DVD, and the Fox Movie Channel's website lists tomorrow's showing as the only one for a while.

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