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Image Entertainment presents
Stand-In (1937)

"Don't forget, in Hollywood, when you turn the other cheek, they kick it."
- Quintain (Humphrey Bogart)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: March 04, 2003

Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Leslie Howard, Joan Blondell
Director: Tay Garnett

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:30m:24s
Release Date: January 28, 2003
UPC: 014381192124
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-C-C D

DVD Review

Hooray for Hollywood, where you're terrific if you're even good. This 1937 comedy about the comings and goings at a movie studio shows, how even early on, the film business has been especially enamored of itself; and while it's neither a searing indictment (like, say, Sunset Boulevard) nor a hilarious romp (cf., Sullivan's Travels), it's got its own distinct if modest charm.

The dapper Leslie Howard plays Atterbury Dodd, one in a long line of observers to be absolutely baffled by Hollywood accounting practices. He works for the rich and moderately evil Pennypacker family, New York bankers considering selling off one of their less profitable assets—the item in question is Colossal Studios, and the prospective buyer is the rich and more evil Ivor Nassau, who is in cahoots with the studio's leading lady and her director to shut down the joint. (Don't worry if you can't follow this, for the plot isn't the point.) Their vehicle for sinking the studio's fortunes is a laughably bad and wildly overbudget picture with the enticing title Sex and Satan.

Dodd has his suspicions—he's a numbers man through and through, and cannot understand what's going on with those picture people: "I'm neither a libertine nor a charlatan. I'm here for one purpose only: to ascertain why it is that Colossal Pictures is losing money, rather than making it." Dodd has headed west to take the reins at Colossal—he now runs a major motion picture studio, despite having no idea who either Clark Gable or Shirley Temple are.

He's got a classic meet-cute moment with Joan Blondell, who plays Lester Plum, the stand-in of the title. (You know, there just aren't enough women named Lester.) Her job is to stand in for the great Thelma Cheri (Marla Shelton) as the technicians do their work, so the great Mlle. Cheri can swoop in as the director cries "Action!" and spend the rest of her time in her trailer. Mr. Dodd and Miss Plum, that most unlikely of pairs, fall head over heels for one another, though he hardly knows it—as she says to him "You've got figures in your blood instead of corpuscles."

All kinds of wacky hijinks ensue, and some of it remains very funny—you know you're in Hollywood when Abraham Lincoln answers the door at a rooming house. This is a piffle of a movie—there isn't much to it, but it's a fun, short ride. And it's notable that the stereotypes about Hollywood are already locked into place, less than a decade after The Jazz Singer: the bitchy diva starlet, the penny-pinching producer, the temperamental, pretentious foreign director in his jodhpurs brandishing a riding crop. Another great virtue of the film is all the location shooting—it's a terrific opportunity to see what L.A. looked like in the mid 1930s, before a Starbucks and a strip mall starting polluting every intersection.

Because of his later reputation and enduring appeal, Humphrey Bogart is given top billing on this DVD case, but he's the third lead at best, behind Howard (just two years away from playing Ashley) and Blondell. Bogart plays the hapless producer on Sex and Satan, still carrying a torch for the leading lady who ditched him, and now unreasonably attached to the terrier that follows him everywhere. Bogart doesn't get many punch lines, but he's got the rat-a-tat-tat dialogue style down, and it's fun to see him working it as an actor in the years before he became a global icon.

The serviceable direction is by Tay Garnett, whose greatest claim to glory would come nine years later in a markedly different genre, when he directed John Garfield and Lana Turner in the smoldering, archetypical noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Even being forgiving about the film's age, the picture quality here is pretty poor. The print is full of scratches and debris, the black level is inconsistent from shot to shot, and the ravages of time are evident in nearly every scene. The picture hasn't been done any favors by the transfer, either, which looks like a dump job right onto DVD without so much as a glance.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: It's a film from the early days of talking pictures, and it shows, as the mono track is frequently muffled. Things sound especially bad during reaction shots, when we're looking at one character but hearing another; the person speaking sounds as if they're on the other end of a ship-to-shore call. Not much to be done with something as limited in capacity as this.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Nothing here but a dozen chapter stops.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A stylish if not first-tier comedy from the age of screwball, Stand-In is a worth a look both for the early performance by Bogart and for the good-natured ribbing that Hollywood could give itself even back in the day.


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