Work is the Curse of the Drinking Class

on October 01, 2008 by Steve Simels
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Gentlemen, start your DVRs: Courtesy of Turner Classic Movies, you have a chance to see the still not on home video classic What Price Hollywood tonight.

In case you weren't paying attention last week and somehow missed our little love letter to star Constance Bennett, WPH is the pre-Code (1932) original version of the story that would be remade three times under the title A Star is Born. The short version: Bennett plays a waitress/aspiring actress who gets noticed and mentored by a big shot director (Lowell Sherman). Her career takes off while his declines due to raging alcoholism; eventually, in an impressive sequence featuring lots of slo-mo and quick cutting, he kills himself in her bedroom, thus causing a major scandal for the married-to-somebody-else starlet. Like we said, it's pre-Code so the filmmakers get away with some stuff you might not anticipate.

 

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It's all very brittle and sophisticated -- the screenplay is based on a story by Adela Rogers St. John, a Tinseltown scenester who knew where all the bodies were buried -- and the direction (by George Cukor, who would make the similarly innovative Judy Garland/James Mason version of A Star is Born in 1954) is extremely deft. But what's particularly interesting about the film is the now mostly forgotten Sherman. A versatile actor turned director (he did Mae West's She Done Him Wrong and Katharine Hepburn's Morning Glory, among other estimable films), Sherman was also as raging an alcoholic in real life as his WPH character; casting him in the part was roughly akin to casting Herve Villechaize as a short person, and the irony of it was lost on nobody, least of all him.

Bottom line: The film is a fascinating curio, and not to be missed. Set your DVR or TiVo to TCM tonight at 11:45 EST and enjoy.

 

Tags: What Price Hollywood, Constance Bennett, A Star is Born, Lowell Sherman, She Done Him Wrong, Morning Glory, Mae West
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