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  • Warning: Spoilers
    Norma Shearer plays Dolly Haven, an ambitious ingénue who applies for a job as a stenographer in a New York casting agency, but instead is hired as the "class" portion of a vaudeville act. Dolly has no real talent--can't sing, can't dance, can't act--but just by walking across the stage dressed elegantly, she quickly becomes the toast of Broadway. Of course, all this success starts to go to her head and she starts behaving like a big-time diva, much to the dismay of Johnny Storm (played by Oscar Shaw, a prominent Broadway star of the time), the hoofer who discovered her and, as it turns out, contributed greatly to the publicity machine surrounding her rise to fame.

    After being wooed away to another troupe, in which she believes she will achieve even more success, things start to go downhill and Dolly finds herself reduced to a member of the chorus in a third-rate act, playing in small-town venues. It's only when she learns to become a "real trouper" in the midst of a crisis situation backstage that Dolly redeems herself.

    Norma Shearer does fine work in this film, exhibiting an impressive emotional range as her character develops from a stagestruck girl to a haughty star with attitude, and finally to a humbled and wiser young woman. She is surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast, notably Tenen Holtz as the casting agent Sam Davis (who gets all the good lines in Joe Farnham's titles), and Oscar Shaw as Johnny.

    The picture is well directed by Monta Bell, whose careful attention to realistic detail in his films always impresses me. Bell composes his shots beautifully, and especially the Christmas Eve snow scenes are beautifully choreographed and photographed. There is also an interesting use of the "zoom" technique, though of course without a zoom lens. The story invites comparison with EXIT SMILING, another MGM film from 1926--both provide insightful behind-the-scenes glimpses of vaudeville life even as it was on the verge of extinction.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    From extra roles in "The Flapper" (a delightful Olive Thomas movie about hijinks in a girl's school) and "Way Down East", by 1926 Norma Shearer was definitely being noticed. With an MGM contract and a burning ambition, her career was carefully managed by Irving Thalberg (whom she would later marry). Originally playing "sweet young things", around this time she was confidant enough to demand more three dimensional roles ie "The Tower of Lies", "The Devil's Circus" and "Lady of the Night". Monta Bell is not remembered today but back in the twenties his name spelled style and class and it was believed that he bought out the best in stars such as Norma Shearer and Jeanne Eagels.

    Dolly Haven (Norma Shearer) fresh from a small town business school and just fresh!!! has come to make her mark in the big city. She applies for a job as a stenographer to a theatrical agent (...must be a gentleman - he prefers blondes!!! says the witty title) but is accidentally hired as a dancer when Johnny Storm (Oscar Shaw) comes in, looking for a replacement partner. It is clear from the start that she hasn't any talent but when Johnny sees her walk up the stairs he decides to make it a "class" act - he provides the talent, she provides the class. Applying her make-up like a clown, whistling in a dressing room - she still has a lot to learn about the theatre but she is a BIG success (Norma looks absolutely gorgeous with a short bob, a beautiful evening gown with a spider web pattern and a magnificent feather fan). Even though Johnny has the talent, Dolly is the one who is noticed. "And did Dolly learn fast...she was soon ready to graduate". She is soon the toast of Broadway and critics are saying she should have more to do - and Dolly agrees!! Meanwhile, enter oily vaudevillian, Wallace King, who steals her away for his own act. They are a flop, King is not as talented as Johnny, so he needs someone to support him and not just look "pretty". But Dolly now has a head the size of a room and decides to go as a single. It is only when she cannot find work that she realises that Johnny paid for all the publicity and photos. After taking a good, hard look at herself, she decides to take the chorus girl's job she was offered (but refused). It is a big come down but she is now eating a massive piece of humble pie!!! Johnny is playing the same bill but while Dolly sees him - he doesn't notice her. When a little girl falls from the balcony Dolly proves she is now a real trouper by taking the mother's place (she is in a knife throwing act) and risking her own life as the father (the knife thrower) loses his nerve in his anxiety about his child.

    Norma Shearer does an excellent job (as usual) as Dolly. Oscar Shaw was a Broadway "juvenile" (at the time of this movie he was almost 40), who only made a few films, usually musicals, but in "Upstage" proved he could dance up a storm. Gwen Lee was a beautiful, stately actress - she played Dixie Mason.

    Highly Recommended.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As her agent says of Norma Shearer in this film, "she don't do nothing' but what she does.... Oi! How she does it!". This insubstantial but tasty little showbiz bonbon doesn't make great demands on Ms Shearer other than to look radiant; and it's her decision to restyle her chic 20's bob into an afro that provokes the big rift between her and partner Oscar Shaw that consumes most of the second half of the film.

    Eventually realising what a storm in a teacup this all is, barely ten minutes from the end (SPOILERS COMING) the film's makers finally decided a bit of silent film melodrama was called for and postpone the inevitable reconciliation we've all been waiting for to instead throw in an outrageously over-the-top climax involving a child in peril and axe throwing. It wasn't necessary; an hour contemplating the handsome Ms Shearer in close-up has been a more than satisfactory way to pass the time, although the climax gives her a chance to do a bit of serious emoting for good measure. (They don't bother to tell us what became of the kid who fell off the balcony, but presumably she came out of her mishap unscathed.)