Thursday, November 19, 2015

Stage Mother (1933)

The focus of the 1933 film Stage Mother is exactly what the title suggests: a former performer pushes her only daughter into show business and controls every aspect of her daughter's life. Think of it as an early non-musical Gypsy. Alice Brady and Maureen O'Sullivan star as the mother Kitty and daughter Shirley, respectively, while Franchot Tone is Shirley's love interest, Warren Foster.

Franchot does not enter the film until a good 45 minutes have passed (Only I would post 20-something screen captures of a 15-20 minute performance). His role is small, but pivotal. Before his entrance, we see vaudeville performer Kitty lose her husband, a fellow entertainer, in a tragic accident. Their daughter Shirley is sent to live with Kitty's in-laws, who disapprove of the entertainment industry and Kitty personally. When Shirley is 14, Kitty returns to raise her and quickly trains her to enter the biz.

It is quickly apparent that Kitty is a ruthless stage mother who will stop at nothing to make her daughter famous. Maureen O'Sullivan is sweet and obliging as the put-upon daughter while Alice Brady (as Kitty) schemes and blackmails to get Shirley to the top.

When a new production takes her to Boston, Shirley is eager to revisit her childhood home. Enter Franchot. Warren Foster, an artist, answers the door and gives her a tour of the house he now owns. There is an immediate rapport between the two and without her mother's knowledge, Shirley begins to see Warren often. Because this is pre-code, Shirley is even shown spending the night with Warren.
Now recovered from an illness that kept her bedridden while Shirley experienced a bit of freedom, Kitty is backstage and reading Shirley's mail from Warren when she hatches a plan to regain control of her daughter. Unbeknownst to Shirley, Kitty blackmails Warren's family for ten thousand dollars with the threat of exposing the two lovers' clandestine meetings. Warren assumes that Shirley seduced him with the extortion plot in mind and confronts her in a stage dressing room. Franchot is as powerful as the angry, manipulated young man in latter scenes as he was the carefree, patient lover earlier in the film. Maureen O'Sullivan (Franchot's costar in Between Two Women) is perfectly cast as the lovely, trapped Shirley in this oft-told tale of a mother living vicariously through her daughter.
Watch Stage Mother to see if Kitty maintains control of her daughter or if Shirley finally fights back for a life of her own. 

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