When M-G-M bought the rights from Paramount in order to film a Red Skelton re-make in 1947, they also acquired the negative. This they suppressed. The movie was never shown on American TV and thus all the people who wrote the books on Claudette Colbert, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Maurice Chevalier and the rest were forced to rely largely on guesswork, leavened with what could be gleaned from contemporary reviews in Variety, Photoplay, Time and The New York and Los Angeles Times.
The only critic who got nearly everything right was Homer Dickens who had the good sense to hunt through the files of the British Film Institute where he came upon a spread in "Picture Show" featuring Stuart Erwin with his hero, Gary Cooper. All the others relied simply upon their own powers of deduction and the way "guest stars" were treated in movies they were familiar with. They reasoned that Paramount would treat their guest stars with a certain amount of indulgence and fanfare. This is far from the case. The treatment is, to say the least, decidedly casual. This is one of the film's charms.
True, Chevalier is given an "entrance", but that's all it amounts to. Cooper is handed a line of dialogue about dropping into wardrobe. Bankhead waves him a two-word farewell. Jack Oakie and Charlie Ruggles enter the preview theater together, conversing briefly. A glum and silent Fredric March can be glimpsed in a corner of the same lobby, signing autographs.
From memory, I don't think that Merton is "introduced" to any of the guest stars at all. Nor does he have any conversations with them. In fact, by and large, the "guests" are dropped into the action so casually, most modern viewers will not be made aware of Brook, Colbert, Holmes, March or Sidney at all. Thus do errors repeat themselves and the uninspired guesswork of self-styled "cinema historians" becomes elevated to "facts".
The real "guest star" of "Make Me a Star" is none other than the movie's actual director, William Beaudine, who contrives some wonderfully riotous run-ins between his assistant director character, stumble-bum Erwin and Oscar Apfel.
Apfel is an absolute howl as a tactful but not-so- patient director (obviously modeled on — you guessed it — Beaudine himself).
Confused? Make a point of seeing this movie TWICE and it will all work out!
The Hollywood scenes are undoubtedly the most entertaining in the movie. They are helped out not only by Bill Beaudine's unusually stylish direction with its masterly use of the Paramount lot itself (masquerading in the film as Majestic Pictures) but by the presence of that vital, alluring, vivacious little blonde bundle of warmth and cynicism, Joan Blondell. Perfectly cast here, Miss Blondell can snap out put-down lines with all the rapid-fire command of a Glenda Farrell, whilst still displaying the warmth and sympathy, the caressing kindliness of an Irene Dunne.
Erwin does okay as Merton, though one often has the feeling that his performance is more mechanical than heartfelt. Aside from Blondell, it's the support players that make the movie. Charles Sellon, repeating his role from the silent version, as the mean and mangy storekeeper, Ruth Donnelly as the wise-cracking "countess", Sam Hardy as the guiding hand of Loadstone, Oscar Apfel as the no- frills director. And of course, Ben Turpin, — though his part is brief and amounts almost to slightly uncomfortable self-parody. But maybe that's what the clever script is getting at. Maybe that's the whole point of "Make Me a Star".
Where's the glamour the script seems to be asking? Hollywood is a factory town. This is the aspect the script makes time and time again. The gloom of the cheerless casting office is not exactly cast aside by the time we finally enter through that door which has closed over numerous exits and at last reach our goal — the lot itself. Where's the glamour? And what of "Flips"? What role actually is she playing? She seems at first to be Donnelly's boss and then her assistant. Then an actress (extra? star?), then a girl with an "in" to various executives — to the assistant director whom she pressures into giving Merton his first break; to the Loadstone chief whom she talks into experimenting with parody. She obviously has the freedom of the lot, yet there's an implication this freedom was purchased for the usual price. Yes, "Make Me a Star" is definitely a movie that will repay more than one visit.