Plot: Hepburn plays Terry Randall, a rich girl, who wants to see if she has what it takes to become an actress. She is determined, pragmatic and maybe just a little too entitled. All this doesn't sit too well with the other aspiring actresses at the Footlights Club boardinghouse where Terry lodges. She and her new roommate Jean Maitland (Rogers) develop an amusing love/hate relationship that leads to a lot of comedic moments. The other inhabitants of the boardinghouse are the shrewd Linda Shaw (Gail Patrick), the fragile and tragic Kay Hamilton (Andrea Leeds), and the endearingly goofy Judy Canfield (Lucille Ball). Terry gets a part in a new play, but acting turns out to be harder than she had thought. It takes a real tragedy to make her into an actress.
There is a lot of humor in the film, but there's also a lingering sense of doom over the young women in the house. Like All About Eve, one of my all-time favorite films, Stage Door may be glitzy and glamorous, but underneath all this there are some hard questions - will Terry's success last or will she be forgotten by the next season? Are the other girls going to find their big break or will they have to give up and marry? Will they live out the rest of their lives in obscurity and relative poverty?
One of the things I especially love about this film is that it centers on women, their lives and their goals. Unlike other movies about women that are really about men (yes, I'm looking at you The Women 1939), Stage Door does not try to hammer in the point that a woman's best role is that of wife and mother. In fact, marriage seems to be treated as failure and near tragedy, while men are obstacles, rather than heroic saviors. One of the more prominent male parts in the film is the smarmy producer Anthony Powell (Adolphe Menjou). He is as close as this film gets to a villain. Even though he is rather pompous and silly, his predatory behavior shows clearly what the women have to put up with to succeed in the theatrical world.
Hepburn is delightful as Terry. She bring the dry wit and sophistication that this part really needs. Terry does come off as rather entitled and too posh at times. The scenes where she quarrels with the director and the writer of the play she had been cast in are truly cringe-worthy. But she learns her lesson in the end.
Needless to say, the outfits in the film are wonderful. The costume designer was Muriel King.
Judy's suit is really fun, but Jean, once again, wins me over with the blouse and high waisted skirt with suspenders. Also, ukulele.
Here's a better picture of Terry's lovely dress. It's very no-nonsense, just like her, with just a touch of see-through chiffon to show that she has a soft, vulnerable side, too.
In the end, Stage Door is a wonderful movie that you can watch again and again. The acting is great and the dialogue feels authentic and honest. And it's all about girls doing it on their own.