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Film / Stage Door

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From left to right, Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, and Ginger Rogers.

"It takes more than greasepaint and footlights to make an actress."

Stage Door is a Dramedy from 1937, directed by Gregory La Cava and featuring an All-Star Cast including Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, and Eve Arden. It was adapted from the play of the same name by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman.

Set in a theatrical boardinghouse in New York City called the Footlights Club, it's about a group of would-be actresses struggling for their big break. Into the boardinghouse comes Terry Randall (Hepburn), who comes from a wealthy background, is rich herself, and is immediately disliked by many of the others. Gradually, however, she wins them all over.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: At one point during Jean and Linda's Snark-to-Snark Combat, Jean cracks, "You know, someday I'm gonna be lucky and run into you while I'm carrying a bowl of goldfish," and Linda laughs at the line.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Discussed:
    Olga: If it's not food, it's men; can't you talk about anything else?
    Judy: And what else is there?
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Jean does this three times.
    • First, there's when Terry first comes to the Footlights Club:
      Terry: How many doors are there to this place?
      Jean: Well, there's the trap door, the humidor, and the cuspidor; how many doors would you like?
    • Then there's when they're going to bed that night, and Jean gives Terry a sleeping mask so the building lights don't keep her up:
      Terry: What do I do with this? Put it over my eyes?
      Jean: No, you swallow it with a glass of water.
    • Finally, there's the dance studio the next day, when Powell comes up to her and Ann while they're rehearsing:
      Powell: You girls rehearsing for a musical?
      Jean: No, we're just getting over the D.T's.
  • Big Applesauce: Well, they are trying to make it on Broadway.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: In-universe; everyone who isn't living at the Footlights Club is puzzled by Terry's curtain speech.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Judy is always going out with men from her hometown of Seattle. At the end of the movie, she's going to get married to one of them.
    • Mary Lou comments at how many times she's performed as a spectator, but by the end of the movie, she finally gets a small part in a play.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Just about all of the actresses at the Footlights Club (except Kaye and Miss Luther), but especially Jean, Judy, Eve and Linda.
  • The Ditz: Mary Lou.
    Judy: Shake your head.
    Mary Lou: Why?
    Judy: Never mind, just shake your head. (Mary Lou does) That's what I thought; I can hear a rattle just as plain.
  • Don't Do Anything I Wouldn't Do: Played with:
    Eve: Remember, Hattie, don't do anything Butch wouldn't do.
  • Dramatic Irony: After the show, Powell runs into Ellsworth, a dramatic critic, who tells Powell Terry has a strange quality that reminds him of Kaye. He asks Powell whatever happened to Kaye, and Powell, unaware Kaye is who Terry was talking about in her curtain speech, says she's still around.
  • Driven to Suicide
  • Ensemble Cast: Though only Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers were well-known at the time, today's viewers will find the rest of the cast pretty impressive.
  • Foreshadowing: Early in the movie, Jean tries to get another boarder to give up the bathroom by yelling through the door. Jean makes a reference to suicide by saying that "if [if the other boarder] want to drown [herself], why don't you use the ocean". Kaye then wanders in to the scene.
  • Funny Background Event: While Anthony Powell angrily asks Terry about the stunt she pulled of pretending to be his latest conquest, Harcourt, his butler, walks out of the room backwards. Unusual for this trope, Terry notices, and looks bemused before turning back to answer Powell.
  • Gratuitous French: While being Pretty in Mink, Jean says "Pardonnez-moi" to Eve at one point.
  • Here We Go Again!: At the end of the film, another young aspiring actress comes to the Footlights Club and asks to speak to someone about accommodations, as Terry did at the beginning.
  • Heroic BSoD: Terry has one of these after finding out about Kaye's suicide, though she does recover in time for her performance opening night.
  • I Have This Friend: A variation; Kaye has told others the story of Enchanted April (the play and role she had her heart set on, and which Terry gets instead) is basically her story, but Terry doesn't know or suspect until right before opening night, when Kaye starts telling her about the play's meaning.
    Terry: Kaye, you know this play.
    Kaye: (emotionally) It's not a play; it really happened to someone I know!
  • Insistent Terminology:
    Linda: If I have to have a stooge, you might at least get me someone interesting.
    Harcourt: I hate that word 'stooge'. I'm retained as an escort.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jean and Linda both lean towards this; both are snappish to each other, and we see them snappish towards Anthony Powell; in addition, while Linda doesn't treat Harcourt very well, Jean isn't very nice towards Terry, or Judy's dates. However, they're both extremely fond of Kaye, and are both devastated when she kills herself.
  • Knew It All Along: Anthony Powell acts this way when it turns out Terry is a success; also when he meets Terry's father.
  • Lazily Gender-Flipped Name: Eve finds out at the end of the movie her cat Henry has just given birth to a litter of kittens. Terry suggests changing the cat's name to Henrietta.
    Eve: I'll never put my trust in males again!
  • Mood Whiplash: The movie swings between the comedy of the actresses bickering at each other and the heartbreak of Kaye's life, especially after she kills herself.
  • No Indoor Voice: Jean, when she hears Mr. Powell's calling for Linda:
    Jean: Oh, LINDA! Mr. Powell's car is here! Mr. Powell isn't here, just his car!
  • On Second Thought: Jean spurns Judy's offer of going out with her and two "lumber men" from Seattle, until she realizes it's a dinner date, at which point she immediately accepts ("That lamb stew has me counting sheep at night").
  • Only Sane Woman: Terry and Miss Luther both see themselves as this, though Terry eventually gets better.
  • Pass the Popcorn: When Jean accuses Linda of stealing her stockings, the other women react like this:
    Oh, Mrs. Orcott! Linda's doing a striptease!
    You can get a bigger crowd in the street.
  • Pretty in Mink: Terry has several furs, and lets Jean borrow her white ermine cape and red fox cape.
    "You may as well go to perdition in ermine. You're sure to come back in rags."
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: Until the Mood Whiplash.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jean gives one to Anthony Powell and Terry when she (wrongly) suspects him cheating on her with Terry:
    Jean: I thought I was in love with you. I only went out with you in the first place to spite Linda. (Terry buries her head) Yes, you should be ashamed, you double-dealing, double-crossing...
    Terry: Darling, I didn't know what I was doing.
    Jean: You and your grandfather...preaches ideals so she can chisel when my back is turned. Well, you can take your old red fox cape. I'll never borrow another thing from you as long as I live. And don't try to borrow anything from me either. I hope you two snakes will be very happy together.
    • She gives another, more serious one to Terry before she goes on, and after Kaye's suicide:
    Jean: She is responsible. It was Kaye's part, it was Kaye's life, but now it's too late. Kaye is dead.
    Miss Luther: Please.
    Jean: Kaye who never harmed anyone. It's all because she (Terry) hasn't any heart, because she's made out of ice.
    Miss Luther: I can't listen anymore, you must leave!
    Jean: Oh, I'll go. I'm gonna go sit out front because Kaye asked me to be there. And every line that she reads, I'm gonna say, 'That should have been Kaye's line.' And every move you make, I'm gonna say, 'That should have been Kaye.' Kaye - who is lying in a morgue all broken and alone. And I dare ya to go on tonight.
  • Running Gag: How bad the food is at the Footlights Club. Lampshaded by Jean at one point.
    Jean: By way of variety, let's complain about the food.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Jean's default mode, though Annie, Eve, Judy and some of the others in the Club are like that as well.
  • Servile Snarker: Powell's aide.
    Powell: (after the show) Get a basket of flowers, and have it delivered to Miss Randall's room.
    Powell's Aide: Shall I put in a few sprigs of wheat?
    Powell: Never mind the sarcasm.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Though we don't see it, at her first dinner at the Footlights Club, Terry discusses Twelfth Night, which delights Miss Luther (she's saved her notices from when she acted in it), but bores the others.
    Susan: No!
    Mary Lou: Well, if he's the same one who wrote Hamlet, he is.
    Eve: Never heard of him.
    Mary Lou: Well, surely you must have heard of "Hamlet".
  • The Show Must Go On: Miss Luther doesn't use those exact words, but does invoke this trope to get Terry to go on stage after Kaye's suicide.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Jean vs. Linda, Jean vs. Terry, Jean vs. Anthony Powell (at least until she briefly started going out with him). Like the scene where Jean is snarking about Terry's fur coat.
    Jean: Fresh kill?
    Terry: Yes, I trap them myself.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Terry's father, Henry Sims (a wheat magnate), doesn't want Terry to act, and tries unsuccessfully to talk her out of it at a lunch. So, in order to get her to stop, he secretly backs Anthony Powell's new play, through his lawyer Carmichael, on the condition Terry star in it. Given Terry is not only inexperienced but is constantly questioning everybody, he figures the play will flop, and Terry will come back to him. However, the whole thing backfires because Terry, heartbroken when she finds out just before the curtain goes up Kaye wanted her role and killed herself because she didn't get it, gives a terrific performance that wows the audience, the critics, and the flabbergasted Powell (not to mention the director, writer and co-star she questioned), and the play is a hit, which means Terry is leaving her father for good.
  • Those Two Girls: Eve and Judy.
  • Wham Line: "It's Kaye. She jumped before I could stop her".
  • You Need to Get Laid: The Hays Code version:
    Annie: (to Jean) Why don't you stop at a filling station and get yourself pumped up!
    Judy: Ah, she ain't exactly a flat, dearie, just a slow leak.
  • Younger Than They Look: Ann Miller was a teenager when she was cast.
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: Eve finds this out about Henry when "he" gives birth to a litter of kittens.
    Eve: I'll never put my trust in males again!