We'll be starting a number of Constance Bennett movies over the next few weeks. The first is What Price Hollywood? (1932) in which Ms. Bennett plays would-be actress Mary Evans. The film opens with an unseen woman looking through a magazine. The ads show us just what the stars use to make themselves beautiful. The woman who is looking at the magazine is using the stockings, and makeup that the ads recommend. The camera pulls back to show a our heroine, who is living in a tiny apartment, with a Murphy bed. No star she, just a simple waitress waiting for her big break.
That night at work, she befriends director Max Carey (Lowell Sherman), a good man, but one with too large an affection for alcohol. He reluctantly agrees to help Mary, but her stiffness and inexperience is evident; he decides to recast the role with someone else. The next day, Mary convinces him to give her one more chance. And thus, America's Pal is born - Mary Evans becomes a star.
Certainly, this is so close to A Star is Born as to be the original source material for the 1937 Janet Gaynor film. But, we understand from the TCM commentary, no credit was given by either this film, nor the Judy Garland film in 1954, to this lovely movie (the former was produced by David O. Selznick, and the latter was directed by George Cukor, the producer and director of this film). For those of you familiar with the later films, take a look at this clip, which is very reminiscent of something that occurs in both of the later versions:
And a wonderful film it is! Several scenes are especially worth mentioning. The opening scene we described above is one. Here is a clip from that, which contains a small tribute to the man who would become the King of Hollywood, Clark Gable:
Another, is the scene in which Mary, having been fired from her first acting job by Max, goes home and spends the night practicing her lines. Ms. Bennett is just fabulous as she stubbornly attempts to master her craft.
We should also tip our hat to the male lead for this film - Neil Hamilton, best known to a generation as Commissioner Gordon in the 1960's television show, Batman. As children of the Batman generation, it was fun to see Mr. Hamilton in a totally different (and much younger) role.
Next week, another Connie Bennett film.