On a recent late-night TCM binge, I came across this 1937 gem starring Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn. These are two of my favorite actresses, and I’d had no idea they had done a picture together. What’s more, the film featured a slew of other notable faces, including Lucille Ball and Ann Miller, both at a very young age.
The premise of Stage Door is sheer delight: a gaggle of girls trying to make it on Broadway board together at the Footlights Club, where they tease, cheer, and agitate each other regularly. Rogers plays Jean, a dancer with a quick wit and an extremely sharp tongue. Hepburn is Terry, a wealthy newcomer determined to try her hand at acting. Her money and manners keep her aloof from the other girls, though she grows to care greatly about them. Terry spends the film scheming and maneuvering to ensure the girls are protected in various ways, but never takes credit for herself.
The end features a surprise, melodramatic twist that I don’t want to spoil here. Suffice to say, after an hour and a half of Rogers and Hepburn trading quips, I was really thrown off by the final, emotional moments of the film. Still, the performances make this odd comedy/drama worth seeing. Hepburn is good, but Rogers is stunning — possibly quicker than she’s ever been.
What’s more, the ensemble of female actors is largely freed from the banal weight of romances and male-dominated scenes. While each girl has her own detailed backstory, many of which include suitors, they’re all given free reign to play and be merry in the boarding house. It’s a genuine pleasure to see so many talented actresses goof off together as well as care for each other in the more serious moments.
Has Hollywood ever made a more dedicated paean to female friendship? If so, I’ve not yet encountered it.