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Warner Home Video presents
Linda Shaw: Do you know, I think I could fix you up with Mr. Powell's chauffeur. The chauffeur has a very nice car too.
DVD ReviewDirector Gregory La Cava's Stage Door is a gem of a film, rivaling his My Man Godfrey not only in terms of its production values, but also with regards to acting and writing. Filled with biting dialogue, impeccable line readings, splendid visual gags, and a genuinely gripping story, this is one of the premier classic screwball comedies of all time. There are maybe five films that make me laugh as hard as this one, and none of those five contains a fraction of the sophistication on display here throughout the 92-minute running time.
In the Big Apple, actresses scrape by between shows, living at a theatrical boarding house. Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers) and her band of sassy thespians exchange verbal jabs at one another and, even on occasion, perhaps a physical one as well. Each girl has her technique for getting roles. Linda Shaw (Gail Patrick) wines and dines with the theater producer, Anthony Powell (Adolphe Menjou); Kay Hamilton (Andrea Leeds) devotes herself entirely to perfecting her craft; and the others crack wise to hide their disappointment at being unable to maintain steady acting stints. The comfortably disordered boarding house has a wrench thrown into its gears, however, when the overly self-confident Terry Randall (Katharine Hepburn) becomes one of its tenants.
Filled with a brash temperament, Terry clashes with her new roommate, Jean, as the two play off one another in a succession of scenes containing some of the most classy dialogue ever written (indeed, it's a shame that Hepburn's line "the calla lilies are in bloom again" is the most famous line here, for it is trumped by at least 50 other well-polished exemplars of the English language). While the ladies are initially hostile to Terry's bold strides, she begins to win them over when she tells off Anthony Powell after the sickly Kay passes out in his lobby. As the girls compete for the next major part in Powell's forthcoming Broadway play, things become both dramatic and comedic as lives cross paths all for the glory of stage immortality.
The screenplay, by Morrie Rysking and Anthony Veiller from a play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, shifts gears so seamlessly that the somewhat familiar story never feels stale—in fact, it never truly feels like you're watching a movie. The characters are so genuine, from the feisty Jean to the piggish Powell to the meek Kay to the eccentric Terry, that every frame of celluloid comes across more like a window into the lives of these people than a silly chemical product. La Cava and his crew strike just the right tone, making this stage adaptation fresh and vibrant for the cinema without disrespecting its stage origins. Two wonderfully staged scenes are when Powell brings Terry and Jean to his apartment for a seat on the "casting couch," featuring subtle camera moves to highlight the physical comedy.
Much of the credit to the film's success must be paid to its cast. All the women rounding out the background characters aid the overall atmosphere, with each actress finding her own niche that makes her character identifiable. Andrea Leeds earned a richly deserved Oscar nomination for her performance as Kay. In a role that could easily be melodramatic and hammy, Leeds turns in a tour-de-force by utilizing the principle "less is more." Her posture and underspoken line readings are the perfect balance to the sarcastic, rambunctious characters surrounding Kay. Adolphe Menjou does the male gender proud, holding his own in this estrogen-driven ensemble by creating a sleazy, likeable scoundrel.
However, the most impressive performances come from Hepburn and Rogers. This is one of Hepburn's best pieces of work, coming out just at the time when studio execs dubbed her box-office poison. I suspect that Terry Randall's drive and resourcefulness come directly out of Hepburn's own experience, creating one of her most intimate on-screen performances. Yet, as good as Hepburn is, she is upstaged by Rogers. This is probably her best performance, full of sexual energy and integrity. If ever there was an ideal woman for me, it's Jean Maitland. Her spunk is contagious, with each quick-witted retort surpassing its predecessor. Yet there's tenderness to Jean's persona, captured perfectly in the film's closing scenes, that a lesser actress would not be able to blend with the cynical side of the character. Honestly, I can't find one flaw in her entire performance. At the risk of sounding like a giddy school boy: Ms. Rogers, will you marry me?
No matter what decade it is seen in, Stage Door is just as fresh and funny as it was in 1937. If you want to spend your evening slapping your knee, then fire this one up.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 transfer is a solid presentation of the movie’s original aspect ratio. Some print defects are evident, most likely due to the age of the film, but are never distracting. Detail is strong and contrast is solid, making for an aesthetically pleasing black-and-white viewing experience.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The English mono track is crystal clear and a welcomed bit of film preservation. There's nothing noteworthy here, just a pleasant listen of the film's original sound mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsIndeed, the calla lilies are in bloom again thanks to this excellent DVD from Warner. Although the extras are not especially impressive, the presentation of the film itself merits the purchase of this DVD for all lovers of comedy.
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