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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Classic Film Review: Stage Struck (1958)

Stage Struck stars Susan Strasberg as Eva Lovelace, an aspiring actress who has travelled to New York intent on getting her big break, not realising quite how difficult that's going to be. She visits the office of big producer Lewis Easton (Henry Fonda) where she also encounters screenwriter Joe Sheridan (Christopher Plummer) and makes a favourable impression on actor Robert Harley Hedges (Herbert Marshall). Her hopes are repeatedly dented, though, especially because one role she might be good for is already occupied by the formidable Rita Vernon (Joan Greenwood). To add to Eva's problems, she's also fallen in love with Easton...

Unfortunately, the central performance in this film was abysmal. I suspect the intention was to make the character dreamy and flighty but it failed spectacularly - she became irritating, repetitive and the only moment I felt any sort of positive feeling for the character was when she was quoting Juliet. In fact, Strasberg's whole performance reeks of her trying to play Juliet throughout. This was disappointing because my first experience of Strasberg in Picnic (1955, reviewed here) was positive. I just don't think Stage Struck was a particularly good fit for her.

The rest of the cast improved matters. Christopher Plummer, in his film debut, was nothing short of sublime as Joe, the writer who falls hopelessly in love with Eva in a way that doesn't feel contrived. Equally, Herbert Marshall's performance as Hedges is brilliant. He provides a nice, calm foil to Strasberg which takes the edge off some of her more manic moments. Henry Fonda generally works well as Easton, although the love affair with Eva leaves much to be desired. I came away thinking that the Strasberg/Plummer pairing was much more desirable that the Strasberg/Fonda, though I appreciated the ending.

Perhaps the main trouble with this film was the central performance. There are some nice insights into comprising and how the theatre works along with some brilliant supporting performances. However, it lacked, for me, a lead character I want to see succeed. I'll admit, I wanted Eva to fail and go home to the country. Maybe not the effect the writers were going for.

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