Virginia Grey

Dramatic School (1938)

By day, Louise Mauban (Luise Rainer) is a regular, albeit promising, dramatic school student.  But by night, she’s always out on the town living the high life with her boyfriend Marquis Andre D’Abbencourt (Alan Marshal).  Well, not really.  That’s just what she tells all her classmates.  The reality is that she works the night shift in a factory to support herself and she doesn’t want to tell her classmates the real reason why she can’t go out with them at night.  She concocts this story one day after Andre visits the factory she works at with his actress girlfriend so she can study the workers for a role she’s playing.  Some of her classmates believe her stories, but others are more skeptical.

No one is more skeptical than Nana (Paulette Goddard), and one night her suspicions are confirmed when she and her boyfriend run into Andre during one of their nights out.  When Nana mentions Louise to Andre, he’s never heard of her.  Nana is awfully catty, so she decides to throw a swanky party and invite both Andre and Louise so that when they meet in front of all their classmates, Louise will be humiliated when he doesn’t know her.  On the night of the party, Andre and Louise both do show up, but Andre has been tipped off about Nana’s plan and doesn’t have the heart to play into it.  He walks in and pretends like he and Louise know each other well, much to Louise’s astonishment.  But then Andre begins to actually fall in love with Louise and he starts showing her the life she’d only known in her mind.  He buys her beautiful clothes, takes her out on the town, and sets her up in a nice new apartment.

But the good times can’t last forever.  One day at school, Louise faces the wrath of her teacher Madame Charlot (Gale Sondergaard).  Madame Charlot was already hurting from being told she’s too old to play Joan in a production of Joan of Arc.  So when Louise gets under her skin, she takes it out on her by promising to have her expelled.  But rather than get upset, Louise thanks Madame Charlot because the suffering will help her become a better actress.  But Louise’s day takes another turn for the worse when she comes home to a letter from Andre breaking things off.  She lets all of her classmates have things Andre has given her and gives Nana the break-up letter because she thinks it will make her happy.  Instead, Nana and Louise end up becoming friends after that.  Louise boldly goes to school the next day and instead of being yelled at by Madame Charlot, she finds out that Madame Charlot has recommended her for the part of Joan in Joan of Arc.  Of course, Louise gets the part, becomes an overnight sensation, and Andre is left kicking himself for having left her.

I liked Dramatic School.  The story itself might not be particularly remarkable, but the cast made it work.  I loved Luise Rainer, Paulette Goddard made a great catty classmate, and Gale Sondergaard was an excellent choice for the aging actress/teacher.  And it was fun to see people like Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford, and Virginia Grey pop up in the supporting cast.  It’s an enjoyable little movie and with a runtime of only 80 minutes, I’d say it’s worth checking out the next time it’s on TCM.

Jeanne Eagels (1957)

In the late 1910s, Jeanne Eagels (Kim Novak) was nothing more than an aspiring actress from Kansas City.  When she meets a traveling salesman who says he can fix it so she can win a beauty pageant at the carnival, she buys it hook, line, and sinker.  But when she gets to the pageant, Sal Satori (Jeff Chandler) has other plans and Jeanne doesn’t win.  However, she sticks around at the end of the night and convinces Sal to give her a job in the carnival.  While on the road, she and Sal fall in love and she dances in any show she can on the carnival circuit, but she’s has her sights set on bigger things.  Eventually, Sal decides to sell his carnival and start a new carnival in Coney Island with his brother.  Jeanne accompanies him to New York, where she takes acting lessons from the great acting coach Nellie Nielson (Agnes Moorehead).

Under the tutelage of Nellie, Jeanne quickly climbs the ladder of success on Broadway, but her relationship with Sal suffers as a result and Jeanne quickly moves onto John Donahue (Charles Drake).  While she’s outside of the theater one day, Jeanne meets Elsie Desmond (Virginia Grey), the former Broadway star who lost her career to pills and booze.  Elsie desperately wants to make a comeback starring as Sadie Thompson in a production of Somerset Maugham’s “Rain.”  Elsie gives Jeanne a copy of the script for her to give to a producer since he’d listen to her, but when Jeanne reads the script, she falls in love with it.  She makes some phone calls and finds out that not only does nobody want to touch it if Elsie’s involved, but her option has expired, so she convinces the producer to do “Rain” with her as Sadie Thompson.  Jeanne is a sensation in the part, but Elsie is driven even deeper into despair and commits suicide.

Jeanne feels painfully guilty for Elsie’s demise, but things look up for her when John’s divorce is finalized and the two are married.  However, marrying John doesn’t stop her from falling into a downward spiral of alcoholism and taking John with her.  While on the road with “Rain”, Jeanne’s drinking forces several performances to be canceled, getting her in hot water with the actors’ union.  Meanwhile, Sal’s new carnival has really taken off, but he still misses Jeanne.  After Jeanne divorces John, she returns to New York to star in a new show.  But just before the show opens, Jeanne gets drunk and doped up before going on stage and as a result, forgets her lines and has a meltdown on stage.  When the entire show gets canceled, the actors’ union bans her from performing in legitimate theater for 18 months.  Sal, however, takes pity on her and gives her a chance to perform in his vaudeville theater, which she accepts.  Unfortunately, after an altercation with a fellow performer, Jeanne once again turns to pills and liquor to cope, but this time, she doesn’t live to make it to the next performance.

I have to say, I was a little underwhelmed by Jeanne Eagels.  First of all, it pretty much goes without saying that Hollywood biopics tend to play a little fast and loose with reality.  But the real Jeanne Eagels never was a carnival dancer and I think it’s a bit much to make an inaccuracy into such a huge part of the movie.  Secondly, Kim Novak’s performance tends to be a bit campy, especially during her drunk scenes and the scenes of Jeanne performing in the play Rain.  The only performance I’ve seen of the real Jeanne Eagels was the 1929 version of The Letter and based on what I saw there, I can totally imagine her bringing down the house with that line, “…Hang me and be damned to you!”  I just can’t imagine Kim’s delivery of that line having the same impact.  It was one of those moments that’s supposed to be so great but left me thinking, “Wait…seriously?”  The writing also had a few issues.  The way it’s written, it feels like Jeanne had the fastest descent into alcoholism I’ve ever seen in a movie.  We don’t see her touch the stuff through most of the movie, then she has one drink and the next thing we know, she’s going off on benders.  I also thought the introduction of Elsie Desmond was a pretty heavy-handed attempt at foreshadowing, even though I really did like Virginia Grey’s performance as Elsie.

Before seeing this movie, I really liked the idea of Kim Novak playing Jeanne Eagels and I give her an “A” for effort because she tried her darndest.  But maybe with a better script and if director George Sidney had reigned Kim in just a little bit, this could have been a far better movie.