STAGE stage success, DOOR,” was, the Ferber-Kaufman in its original form, a bitter attack on Hollywood. Hollywood, which never lets its hurt feelings interfere with business, promptly bought it and rewrote it brilliantly for the screen, leaving out the insults. The result is a remarkably fine film, with at least three performances so outstanding that it is hard to say whether Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn steal the picture from each other, or the newcomer, Andrea Leeds, steals it from both. My vote goes to Ginger Rogers, who proves to be as gay, smooth and nimble a comedian as she is a dancer. All three girls are cast as aspiring young actresses living in a theatrical rooming house off Broadway. Adolphe Menjou is an urbane producer with a Broadway role to be given away to the girl who is smart enough to get it.
The story has been deftly handled, with a remarkably effective tragic climax. Altogether, “Stage Door” is a picture that should give everyone, including the original authors, a new respect for Hollywood writing, acting and showmanship.
TRUE CONFESSION” has to do with the troubles of a strait-laced husband (Fred MacMurray) and a wife (Carole Lombard) who tells lies just for the fun of it. When her lies get her into trouble, she promptly invents wilder ones which get her into worse trouble. On trial at last for a murder she didn’t commit, she is inspired to accept the blame in order that her highprincipled husband can win fame by getting her acquitted. The situation is further complicated by the presence of a leering criminologist (John Barrymore) who knows all the answers, and by the dilemma of the husband who must accept his wife as either a liar or a murderess.
The odd part is that this nightmarish little plot manages to be continuously and hilariously funny. Fred MacMurray as the husband who couldn’t tell a lie, and Carole Lombard as the wife who did it with her little hatchet, are both exceptionally good, but the picture owes its peculiar hobgoblin quality to John Barrymore as the eccentric crime expert. Good entertainment for adults.
TOVARICH” is another successful screen version of a Broadway success. As everyone probably knows by this time, “tovarich” is the Russian word for “comrade”—a word naturally abhorred by the Grand Duchess Tatiana (Claudette Colbert) and the Russian prince, her husband (Charles Boyer). When the story opens, the two are living in squalor in Paris. Their funds are so low that the grand duchess has to steal caviar and champagne from the corner grocery; and their principles are so high they won’t touch a kopek of the forty billion francs entrusted them by the late czar. So eventually they go to work—the grand duchess as housemaid, the prince as butler in one of those distracted households so popular in the movies recently. Their employer is a French banker, and the crisis comes when the Soviet commissar is invited to dinner.
Claudette Colbert has never given a prettier performance than as the grand duchess, Charles Boyer is engaging as the prince, and Basil Rathbone, with an imperial, white tie and tails, is as elegant a Soviet commissar as ever made himself at home in a capitalist parlor. It’s a gay
polite piece of make-believe, handled so beguilingly that even the most belligerent tovarich in the audience could hardly take exception to it.
A Damsel in Distress
THE LATEST Astaire film is bright and lively and well worth seeing, even if Mr. Astaire is deprived of Ginger Rogers as a dancing partner. Since the cast includes Bums and Allen, Reginald Gardiner and Montagu Love, the dancer has plenty of support. Thanks to P. G. Wodehouse’s airy and expert script, none of these talented people are slighted, and none of them get in each other’s way.
The background is one of those feudal English households that P. G. Wodehouse writes of with so much authority and no one else has ever heard of. Miss Joan Fontaine is the beautiful girl involved, and seemed a little breathless surrounded by so much talent. Gracie Allen as Astaire’s assistant publicity agent was breathless, too, but not from any sense of embarrassment. The Gershwin music and lyrics are fresh and charming and the dance sequences inventive, particularly the trio with Bums and Allen in a fun house, and Fred Astaire’s dance solo with drums. Altogether, “A Damsel in Distress” is everybody’s holiday treat and shouldn’t be missed.
THE FIREFLY” has all those lovely old Rudolf Friml tunes that people used to sing before the War—"Love is Like a Firefly,” “Sympathy,” “Gianina Mia” and “When a Maid Comes Knocking at Your Heart.” Since it has Jeanette MacDonald and Allan Jones to sing them, even post-War movie-goers without any sentimental memories should enjoy this film. The story has to do with the war between France and Spain in Napoleonic times, and the usual troubles of a lady spy who finds that love takes her mind off her work. There’s quite a lot about the Napoleonic campaign in “The Firefly”— perhaps a little too much for people who feel that a musical show isn’t the place to brush up one’s history. The production is very handsome, however, and so are the principals, and even if the Friml songs are scattered rather thinly over long stretches of the Peninsular War, they’re worth waiting for when they come.
WELLS FARGO” has to do with the establishment of the Wells-Fargo Express service across the United States in Civil War times. It’s a highly commendable picture, full of sound historical material and pioneering spirit. Unfortunately it is also a little bit dull—we’ve had quite a few pioneering pictures lately, and one gets rather worn out after a while pushing forward the frontiers of civilization.
There is plenty of action and gunplay in “Wells Fargo,” but the episodes are loosely strung out without the rising sense of climax that made “The Plainsman” one of the great westerns of movie history. The acting, too, lacks intensity. Joel McCrea seemed a little quiet and gentlemanly for the part of America’s first expressman, and Frances Dee, though lovely to look at, appeared rather plaintive and fragile; not the type to conquer the wilderness and keep a pioneer cheered up in the midst of his difficulties. Children will enjoy the Western atmosphere of “Wells Fargo,” however, and serious movie-goers should be interested in the well-documented historical background.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.