Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Andrea Leeds in Stage Door

Andrea Leeds received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Kay Hamilton in Gregory La Cava's Stage Door. For most of it's 92 minute running time, Stage Door really feels like a buddy movie between Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. It really is just these two major actresses delivering some fun performances, supported by a group of talented comediennes (including Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Constance Collier, and Ann Miller) who back them up and provide additional moments of humor. Poor Andrea Leeds is left to play the only real serious character in a film that doesn't need-- or want her. The film is about a boarding house full of aspiring actresses and their successes and failures in getting into show business. I can see why it appealed so much to the Academy, because it really is about them and many had probably been in this place at some time in their lives. And despite how disjointed the film is, it is a fun film with some solid performance (Rogers is particularly delicious).

Kay Hamilton does not fit in with the rest of the film, and it's somewhat painful to watch Leeds attempt to 'ground' a film that doesn't need grounding. Kay is an actress who had some recent success only to find herself back to the place she was at she was before that success, unable to get work. She is mopey and serious but everyone still seems to like and look up to her. However, we never see that likability in Leeds' performance. She never gives Kay any life or depth but instead makes her more like someone who is not fun to be around. Leeds thinks that by having Kay speak in a monotone and look down at her feet at all times it makes her 'moody' but instead makes her boring and in no way relatable. If in her normal scenes she is stiff, in her melodramatic scenes with screaming and crying she ramps her performance up to almost the opposite of stiff, and becomes shrill and hysterical to point of inanity. She screams loudly and never shows her face during these scenes, instead throwing her arms down on the nearest person's lap and going completely over the top.

That really is the major problem of the performance- it is one of extremes. Kay Hamilton is either in full on hysteria or walking around the house like a zombie. She never feels even an ounce real or relatable, but like a character in a play that Kay might be playing. She has a fleeting moment of intrigue, in her final scene as she walks upstairs after lamenting to Katharine Hepburn how she wishes she got the part Hepburn did, in that you can see the thought process that Kay is going through and feel what she can do next. It's not a perfect moment, and some of her expressions are strange and over the top, but she has brief times in that walk where you can see some glimmer of potential. It's not enough to come close to saving the performance, though.

As bad as Andrea Leeds was, I put some of the blame on the script and director. The film is a comedy, and Kay Hamilton is the not the type of person who would be friends with the rest of the women in the film. She just doesn't fit, and with by lightening the personality of the character somewhat she could fit into the film and her storyline could become even more powerful. However, that is not the case and instead Leeds struggles. 1.5/5 Thelmas.

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