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Thursday, March 20, 2014

'What Price Hollywood' DVD: Terrific Screwball Comedy Version of "A Star is Born'

What Price Hollywood?
Warner Archive's DVD release of the 1932 screwball comedy "What Price Hollywood" is another recent example of Archive providing a "shouldabeen a classic" film new life.

One particularly awesome aspect of "Hollywood" is that it is a George Cukor movie about a starlet whose career soars as her marriage crumbles and her benefactor goes into a tailspin 22 years before Cukor presents a more dramatic version of this tale in the classic film "A Star is Born."

"Hollywood" is also notable for having its DVD release coincide with releasing "Free and Easy" from 1932. This film, which is the first talkie for comic genius Buster Keaton, tells the tale of a small-town girl from Gopher City, Kansas who tries to makes it big in Hollywood with the help of a matinee idol. Unreal TV is reviewing this one the last week of March 2014.

Aside from the fine company that it keeps, "Hollywood" independently shines in large part thanks to Constance Bennett of the "Topper" films doing a great job as a Brown Derby waitress whose chance encounter with film director in decline Max Carey quickly has her reborn as movie star Mary Evans.

The following witty preview clip, courtesy of YouTube, shows how this wannabe star is immaculately conceived.

Cukor shows off his well-known talent by using a very dreamy montage to convey both Mary's quick rise to the top and a subsequent scandal that threatens her success. Suffice it to say that two of the three main characters in "Hollywood" buy the farm but not necessarily irrevocably.

The trappings of Mary's success include a seemingly fairytale marriage to wealthy playboy Lonny Borden, played by Neil Hamilton. Hamilton is best known to modern audiences as Commissioner Gordon of the campy '60s "Batman" series.

Bennett and the rest of the cast strike a great balance between the over-emoting that is characteristics of silent films and live theater and the more deadpan style of acting that characterizes most modern performances. She is particularly skilled at communicating with her expressions and stage business.

An early scene in which Mary does hilariously horribly regarding her first attempt at acting is both a perfect example of Bennett's skill and one of the best scenes of the film; Bennett additionally shines in a subsequent series of scenes focusing on her meeting with Hamilton's Borden and their eventful first date, which could have justified describing the uniting of this millionaire and this pretty girl as "when they met, it was murder."

Other well-portrayed Hollywood stereotypes include the autocratic German-born film producer and a gossip reporter who is a Hedda Hopper clone six years before Hopper transitioned from appearing in films (where she developed a reputation as "Queen of the Quickies") to writing about the people who bring them to us.

The last-minute happy ending related to this review is that this feel-good film from 1932 is a great choice for 2014.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Hollywood" is welcome to email me; you can also contact me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.