Stage Door (1937)

9 May

I don’t think I’m at all alone in my regard for Stage Door (which will air on TCM Tuesday, May 14 at 2:15 p.m.), but we can be honest, I assume, in admitting some of the creakiness in its melodrama. And I say this with love and with my previously admitted fondness/weakness for creaky 30s melodrama. But I’m saying it to modify your expectations. And fear less any dated stereotypes of women you may encounter than the stereotypes of stage folk. We’re a sensitive lot, but even dramatists like to take it out of actors; yet actors are always so happy to be hired that they seldom pipe up about it.

Stage Door (1937)

Anyone missing? Margaret Dumont? Joan Blondell? This is the Sgt. Pepper cover of 1930s actresses.

That said, considering its period, its cast, and its writing pedigree (George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber) it would be lovely to hear from an actively feminist contingent on this. I mean, I consider myself one, but male feminists are rightly suspect. True story: in undergrad, I took a Women in Literature class. I was one of three men in the class. I was there with what I’ll call a Pure agenda – I took most of my lit classes because the theatre degree was eating into my reading time (my double major was almost entirely the accidental result of this), so I was there because the list looked appealing. Dude #2 was there because he clearly wanted to pick up chicks and used some kind of high school Home Ec. class logic without considering potential repercussions. He didn’t last very long.

Dude #3, while I could never prove he wasn’t just Dude #2 with a different tack, had decided to be a gender apologist. No feminist, no matter her level of radicality, could possibly make more vehement statements about the Tyranny of Men than this guy was prepared to make. It was weird and kind of hilarious, and inasmuch as I mostly stayed out of such foolish discussions as he would spur on, I thought I read the room’s morbid and/or deadpan fascination with him pretty accurately.

Until One Day…

About the third book we read was Jane Eyre (which I started again yesterday for the first time since then), followed of course by Wide Sargasso Sea. I assume that’s a pretty standard attempt to blow the mind of a 90s undergrad – I had already been introduced to Angela Carter by then, so I was mostly just happy with its brevity. Anyway, we’re still in Jane Eyre and discussing the character of Edmund Rochester, and Dude #3 (he should be upgraded, since Dude #2 was gone by now, but I’ve confused the issue with all these parentheticals as it is) decides to tear righteously into Rochester for all his Rochestasticy…

…and I smelled it. I smelled the moment when the room turned on him. Because even in a group of educated women of literary bent with various places on the Men-Are-No-Damn-Good to Men-Are-No-Damn-Use spectrum, you apparently do. Not. Mess. With Rochester. I swear I saw a couple of them putting Vaseline under their eyes, pulling their hair back into scrunchies, and cracking their knuckles. The air was ripe with vengeance.

He didn’t mouth off quite as much after that.

But what was I saying? Ah, yes: Stage Door. This one falls into the “I can love what I do not condone” camp, partially because a) it is a product of its time, so seeing the handling of some of the men-over-career concerns would be no weirder than the same issues in Austen but seeing it in the century of one’s own birth is a little different, and b) this is mitigated by the Katherine Hepburn career-centric storyline, and most importantly c) Ginger Rogers in the 30s. Rrrrawrrr.

Anyway, you should watch it. It’s lovely and fun. And Ann Miller is like fourteen (seriously; she’s fourteen) and she still taps like a maniac right next to Ginger; plus Eve Arden & Lucille Ball. It’s like a chutzpah tutorial.

Sadly, I feel like I’ve gone on for long enough that I should call it quits before I launch into my thesis, “Gail Patrick: The Anti-Ralph Bellamy?” Another day, perhaps…

One Response to “Stage Door (1937)”


  1. 3rd Annual (or whenever) One Woman Film Festival report… | I Humbly Suggest... - October 25, 2013

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