Thursday, August 24, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #163: The Stage

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is the stage, and while I thought for a bit about using three movies with stagecoaches, I decided to be conventional and pick three movies about the stage on which theater actors perform:

The Broadway Melody (1929). The first of the backstage movies, this one is a very early talkie about a vaudeville act (Bessie Love and Anita Page) who go to Broadway and eventually make it big on the real stage when one of them is discovered. This one along with 42nd Street is responsible for a lot of the tropes of the genre. Watch for James Gleason at the beginning of his career as a manager in the music publishing company.

The Guardsman (1931). Stage stars Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne went to Hollywood for the one and only time and made the movie about a pair of married stage actors in which he's jealous of her male fans, so he decides to test her by dressing in disguise and wooing her. She may or may not know what's up, and if she does, she's not letting on to him. The two are absolutely delightful together. The opening scene may look familiar; it's from the end of Maxwell Anderson's play Elizabeth the Queen, which was turned into the movie The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.

Prince of Players (1955). Richard Burton stars as Edwin Booth, one of the premier stage actors of the second half of the 19th century. Unfortunately, Edwin's brother was John Wilkes Booth (John Derek), who gave the family name just a bit more notoriety by assassinating Abraham Lincoln. Poor Edwin has to try to rebuild his reputation. Burton is unsurprisingly good, and the stage scenes include a rare film appearance by stage actress Eva Le Gallienne.


joel65913 said...

Great trio of choices though I have to be honest and think The Broadway Melody is a lumbering dinosaur suffering from every growing pain silent to sound presented.

However The Guardsman is a much breezier affair. It's too bad The Lunts hated the filmmaking process so.

Burton is indeed commanding in Prince of Players which is florid and overblown at times but also quite compelling. Aside from the rare appearance of Le Gallienne it is also one of the few features of the terribly troubled Maggie McNamara.

I went with the other early film you mentioned plus two others with a more murderous bent.

The Velvet Touch (1948)-Stage star Valerie Stanton (Rosalind Russell) attempts to break ties with her longtime producer and paramour Gordon Dunning (Leon Ames) after the closing of her latest play so she can move on with her life and career but during an argument in his office she accidently kills him. Unobserved she leaves and as suspicion falls on Gordon’s former flame Marian Webster (Claire Trevor) the film looks back at how matters came to such a pass. Meanwhile jocular policeman and theatre buff Captain Danbury (Sydney Greenstreet) investigates. Nice stage atmosphere and excellent performances add much to this undeservedly obscure, efficiently made little drama with a twist of noir thrown in that has a great ending.

A Double Life (1947)-You’ve heard people jokingly tell others when they are getting carried away with something to “not get lost in the part!” but that’s just what happens in this noirish drama that won Ronald Colman a Best Actor Oscar. Anthony John (Colman) is a famed stage star greatly respected for his Shakespearian interpretations. The problem is that he lives the roles both onstage and off, when playing comedy he is the best guy in the world but when the material is dark so are his moods which among other things has led to the end of his marriage to his frequent costar Brita (Signe Hasso). Now he’s undertaken Othello and as he immerses himself deeply into the role his sanity begins to slip putting all around him including Brita and his mistress Pat (a young, whippet thin Shelley Winters) at risk.

42nd Street (1933) - Aspiring hoofer Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) is a greenhorn new to the Broadway stage where through a friendship with two other chorines, the brassy Lorraine (Una Merkel) and the loose “Anytime Annie” (Ginger Rogers) she gets a spot in the chorus of a new show “Pretty Lady”. Through huge contretemps the star of the show has to bow out and Peggy is plucked from the line and told by the producer Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) “You’re going out there a nobody…but you’ve got to come back a STAR!” And she does with the help of mind bogglingly elaborate dance numbers staged by Busby Berkeley. Incredibly influential musical invented just about every cliché in the book.

Birgit said...

Gosh, I missed this one! Broadway Melody was such a hit but watching it now is difficult because it is so lumbering as Joel said. I haven't seen the other 2 but always wanted to see The Guardsmen and now the Burton film is on my long list of films to see