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Hollywood Romatic Comedy, Right-On,
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This review is from: The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930s (Paperback)
This book is focused upon the emergence of the female star personality, and how the directors integrated and evolved their personas into romantic comedies, filled with prescient social meaning. I say emergence, because actresses like men, had to fight for status and recognition in a Hollywood that was literally inventing itself. Kendall's chapters on Claudette Colbert: Capra and "It Happened One Night"; Katharine Hepburn: Stevens and "Alice Adams"; Ginger Rogers: Stevens and "Swing Time"...to name just three...are sharp and originally insightful. And the chapter on my favorite screwball comedienne, Jean Arthur, and the wonderful Myrna Loy, like the others, is noteworthy for its clarity, contrast, and precision. The whole effort is a real contribution to understanding of the rise of the star-actress, in what was then, the "man's world" of classic Hollywood.
In this regard, highly insightful, is her take on "Stage Door", where Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers work off each other's characters...or, is it their own selves...to support La Cava's vision of a stunning ensemble of spirited depression era women, struggling, and wise cracking, their way towards independence....financial, professional, and personal.
Aside from her right-on understanding of the Stevens/Rogers partnership, I have one quibble regarding Sandrich/Rogers in "Follow the Fleet". Kendall writes that the film (and its writers), "never bothers to show us (her) disappointment, or anger" at Fred's bumbling interference....causing her, twice to lose her job. In fact, she not only gets angry, she GETS EVEN! She tricks Fred into jealousy, with an out-of-uniform officer...which lands Fred in a fountain, dripping wet, and into "the brig"...as she walks off with the officer arm in arm. In addition, Sherry also puts Bake's wise-guy persona to the test, by linking her acceptance of him, to his help with her sister's fate. A pretty tough cookie, Sherry is.
I think that Stevens "went to school" on "Follow the Fleet". He even does his own imaginatively bright version of Ginger's firing, just as he completes Fred's deconstruction, that Sandrich began. However much he belittled her, Sandrich cracked the door, that Stevens and Rogers walked through.
[I take special attention to this because, I think "Follow the Fleet", just before "Swing Time" in 1936, is one of the quietly great films of the series...and because it has one of the most, almost supernaturally beautiful, and memorably elevated....pantomime, acting, song, and dance-of-courtship numbers, of any film ever made....in "Let's Face the Music and Dance". It's a human victory over despair and doubt...a powerfully evocative and blindingly elegant paired dance, that exudes pure courage, mutual empathy, dignity, and strength...right in the teeth of the Great Depression...the living national drama, stewing outside the movie house doors. Note that in this dance, Fred is a gambler-in-tux, who, as in "Swing Time", has no money, meets Ginger by chance...and together, resolve their unhappy situations, and exit, arm in arm, stage right.]
This quibble notwithstanding, the book is a most stimulating read, especially for those familiar with the films. It's food for further thought and appreciation...clearly written, well researched, and full of good information, careful analysis; with no agenda to sensationalize. It does what all good criticism does: It provides solid information and deepens understanding. The true-to-life individual narratives, of the actresses and the film makers, have plenty of zip and spunk, to make such typically exaggerated exercises redundant. Kendall is now a proven master of the genre, and this book demonstrates it.