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  • Another film that deserves a wider viewership and a DVD release, "What Price Hollywood?" looks at the toll Hollywood takes on the people who make it possible.

    Adela Rogers St John wrote the Oscar-nominated story of a fading genius of a director, destroyed by drink, who launches one last discovery into the world. Lowell Sherman, himself both a director and an alcoholic, played the sad role that had been modeled, in part, on his own life. (Sherman's brother-in-law, John Barrymore, was also a model, as was the silent film director Marshall Neilan.) The divinely beautiful Constance Bennett plays the ambitious Brown Derby waitress who grabs her chance. Neil Hamilton, paired to great effect with Bennett that same year in "Two Against the World," plays the east-coast polo-playing millionaire who captures Bennett's heart without ever understanding her world.

    George Cukor directed the film for RKO, and already the seeds of his directorial genius can be seen. Wonderful montages and double exposures chart Bennett's rise and fall as "America's Pal," and I've rarely seen anything as moving as the way Cukor presented Sherman's death scene, using quick shot editing, exaggerated sound effects and a slow motion shot. As startling as it looks today, one can only imagine the reaction it must have caused over 70 years earlier, before audiences had become accustomed to such techniques.

    While the romantic leads are solid--Bennett, as always, especially so--and Gregory Ratoff is mesmerizing as the producer, hats must be doffed to Lowell Sherman for his Oscar-calibre performance. The slide from charming drunk to dissolute bum is presented warts and all, and a late scene in which the director examines his drink-ravaged face in the mirror is powerful indeed. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like for Sherman to play such a role and it was, in fact, one of the last roles he took for the screen, before concentrating on directing--then dying two years later of pneumonia.

    When David O. Selznick made "A Star is Born" for United Artists five years later, four years after leaving RKO, the RKO lawyers prepared a point-by-point comparison of the stories, recommending a plagiarism suit--which was never filed. The later movie never credited Adela Rogers St John or any of the source material of "What Price Hollywood?" for its own screenplay, which was written by Dorothy Parker from, supposedly, an idea of Selznick's.

    "What Price Hollywood?" is a great source for behind-the-scenes tidbits--Cukor fills the screen with images of on-set action (or inaction), with various crew waiting about as they watch the film-in-a-film action being filmed. This movie works as history and as innovation, but it also works on the most important level, as a well-told story.
  • It's fun to compare "What Price Hollywood," made in 1932, to the more familiar 1937 version of "A Star is Born" (as well as its two later remakes). An important historic event intervened between the two: the Hays Code became rigidly enforced in 1934. The 1932 version is much spicier. Mary, the unknown knockout in in the 1932 version, is a saucy waitress at the legendary Brown Derby restaurant trying to catch the eye of a movie big shot. She's pretty sophisticated and, you believe, would happily do whatever is required to land an acting job. She readily allows herself to be picked up and taken to a premiere by a famous (but fading) director, which launches her great career. In the 1937 version, Esther, the ingenue, is straight off the farm and comes to Hollywood without a clue about the movie biz. She's a goody-two-shoes who would be shocked about what it usually takes to break into the biz. She catches the eye of a famous (but fading and highly alcoholic) actor when she waitresses at a party.

    There is one major plot difference: in the 1932 version, Mary marries a rich polo playing socialite who divorces her (while she's pregnant) because he is fed up with movie people. This is highly realistic--movie stars had terrible marital problems. In the 1937 version, Esther marries the actor who was her mentor and is sucked into his hopeless downward spiral. Divorce is a perfectly acceptable solution to marital problems in 1932 but, under the constraints of the Code, was out of the question in 1937.

    Both films are well worth seeing. They're loaded with insights about Hollywood and filmmaking (both the creative and the business end), the rapacious movie press, and the fans--an insatiable monster that devours the object of its affection. The declining fortunes of the director (in "What Price Hollywood") and the actor (in "A Star is Born") are quite fascinating. But of the two--the 1932 version is a lot more fun.
  • "What Price Hollywood?" is one of my favorite films of the 1930s. With loads of drama, glamour to spare, and some romance too, this movie is one of the best behind-the-scenes looks at the old Hollywood studio system that was ever made. Constance Bennett, looking her radiant best, plays the lead role with finesse. Lowell Sherman also turns in a powerful performance as a washed-up director. This movie was the basis for "A Star is Born." All in all, one great film.
  • The direction of George Cukor for this film is excellent. The three lead characters have three charming, yet completely different personalities. The great talent of George Cukor doesn't allow the energy of any of his characters to wane. The performance of Lowell Sherman only adds to the wonderful script, and only the innocence of Constance Bennett is able to carry the role of an aspiring starlet that makes it so believable. Neil Hamilton (later to play the 'Commissioner' on the "Batman" TV series of the mid-1960's) is excellent as the 'love interest'. But it is Lowell Sherman who steals nearly every scene in the wonderful jewel of a film. The story of this film is like many real-life stories of almost everyone who has ever worked in Hollywood - either in front of the camera or behind the lens. To me, this IS the original "A Star is Born", and that is why it is one of my favorite films of all time. From the appearance of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson to the Brown Derby to the scenes of the night life of the early days of Hollywood, "What Price Hollywood?" will always be a memorable film for me.
  • Constance Bennett was at the height of her beauty in "What Price Hollywood?" an excellent 1932 film directed by George Cukor. The story is a familiar one, but in 1932, probably less so: A good-looking, vivacious waitress catches the eye of a drunken director, who helps make her a star. As happens in "A Star is Born," a few years later, he hits the skids, and she's there to help. But as we all know, no good deed goes unpunished. Lowell Sherman gives a marvelous performance as the director, and apparently, he was playing himself. His final scene is fantastic, extremely compelling. A surprisingly modern-looking, very handsome Neil Hamilton plays Bennett's husband, who later divorces her before she gives birth to their child.

    Like "The Bad and the Beautiful," "What Price Hollywood?" shows some inner workings of a Hollywood studio in those years. Although there are some touches that make the movie dated - and what done in 1932 isn't - there is something about this film that also seems fresh. Perhaps it is the honesty of the performances. Besides Bennett, who is marvelous (and does her own singing), Sherman, and Hamilton, there is the multitalented Gregory Ratoff on board.

    I've seen many Constance Bennett films, as she is a favorite of mine, and I would have to put this as her best.
  • What that lady needed was a good script and a fine director. She had both in "Our Betters." And she had it here. And this one will break your heart.

    The on-the-set ambiance is very plausible. Lowell Sherman is excellent as the tippling director who discovers waitress Bennett and becomes a heavier drinker. Gregory Ratoff is superb as the initially brusque but increasingly sympathetic producer Saxe.

    Conusance Bennett is likable as the ambitious waitress. She gets us to smile as she starts out as a crummy actress but works hard at it. And she is directed to a superb performance when things for Sherman, her, and her husband Neil Hamilton get tough.
  • One of George Cukor's better films, featuring Lowell Sherman, as an alcoholic director, Gregory Ratoff as a Sam Goldwyn like producer, and Constance Bennett playing the starstruck waitress at the Brown Derby. The film also includes Eddie "Rochester" Anderson as Sherman's sly butler. An early RKO film, it shows the working of the studio, somewhat satirically but lovingly. Also, a world premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater. It should be better known .
  • Alcoholic director Max Carey (Lowell Sherman) discovers waitress Mary Evans (Constance Bennett). She becomes a big star and marries handsome Lonny Borden (Neil Hamilton)...but Carey's alcoholism starts to kill him and Lonny can't deal with his wife's stardom....

    Very predictable but good. This movie moves VERY quickly; is well-directed by George Cukor; has some sharp pre-Code dialogue and has a good script that gives an interesting look at Hollywood in the 1930s. The church sequence especially is fascinating. It gets a little overly silly at the end but it still works.

    Bennett is just great--beautiful and believable; Sherman was good also; Hamilton is just so-so but he's unbelievably handsome so that helps. Gregory Ratoff also gets some laughs as a VERY excitable studio head.

    This was (pretty obviously) the inspiration for the later "A Star Is Born" movies but stands on its own merit. I give it an 8.
  • A terrific picture and new to me. I think I had heard of it, perhaps showing at a pre-code festival at the Film Forum here in New York. Maybe not. Anyway caught it by accident on TCM today and what a find. Early George Cukor "woman's picture" I guess and has to be one of the earliest (1932) Hollywood pix about Hollywood. Brilliant, witty script with lots of stuff which would've been censored after the Code went into effect a couple of yrs. later. Great performances by Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman, both of whose work I had very little knowledge of. I had never even heard of Lowell Sherman and he is just amazing in the role of a director with a drinking problem. Oh and that's Gregory Ratoff as foreign-born producer. I think he reprised that role a few times, of course most notably as Max Fabian in All About Eve, which was on the tube over the weekend and is hard to tune away from once you start watching...and listening, like this was. I could go on--but just catch it if you can!
  • I guess its the fluttering fingers of the Judy Garland cohort that have given her version of A Star is Born the best rating. The first version of Star is best version but, alas, the lowest rated. I give it a Ten to pull up the average. I also give it a Ten, because if Gaynor's and Garland's are worthy of Tens then, by God, so is Bennett's.

    Just the presence of the ethereally lovely Constance Bennett, plus Lowell Sherman's superior performance as a washed up director (he really was a director), render the others tired re-makes.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    An excellent specimen of the subgenre of movies about movie-making, featuring the spectacular Constance Bennett as Marie Evans, a waitress discovered at the Brown Derby by an endearingly inebriated genius director, Max Carey (Lowell Sherman). Actually, she does most of the work in the discovery scene, and he plays along. Not that she does anything wrong—she is just herself. She fails miserably at her first screen test, but spends the night walking through the bit and performs it flawlessly the next morning and becomes a star, taken on by the jovial heavily-accented producer Julius Saxe (Gregory Ratoff). She marries a rich, handsome polo player (Neil Hamilton), who gets tired of Hollywood and leaves. Max's drinking worsens, and he winds up committing suicide in Mary's living room, which destroys her career. She retreats to France, but soon she's reunited with her husband and her career promises to renew itself. This plot is familiar—traces of the later A Star is Born and even Dinner at Eight, both of which feature drunks whose careers disappear. Other familiar themes are the rise of a star out of nowhere, the self-absorption of Hollywood, the price paid by stars, and the viciousness of the press. Sherman's early scenes are exceedingly amusing; he manages to make tipsiness seem to be a sort of whimsically inspired state. There's a lot for Bennett to do—screwball comedy at first, then bits of acting of all sorts, even singing in French, romance, tragedy—and a lot of scenes of details of the making of films. She's a treasure.
  • This early effort by director George Cukor had such resonance that it was remade three times as A STAR IS BORN, so it lives on to satisfy the curiosity of those who admire one or more of the later productions. What holds it up after all these years are a strong and realistic performance by Lowell Sherman as a successful Hollywood film director whose alcoholism is destroying his career, decent and sometimes brilliant work by ever-stylish Constance Bennett as the ambitious waitress who becomes an overnight star, beautiful and poetic montages by Slavko Vorkapich, a generally witty and clever script by a team of about eight writers including Adela Rogers St. John and Gene Fowler, and some beautifully directed intimate scenes including the opening in which Bennett dresses for work, copying the beauty tips advertised in the fan magazine she is reading. Highlights: the screen test in which Bennett repeatedly fails to gracefully descend a staircase, deliver one line and then react to the sight of a dead body outside camera range; the filming of a nightclub scene in which Bennett delivers a love song in French (a la Dietrich in MOROCCO) as she strolls among the seated patrons. When you think about it, Bennett is really too sophisticated and worldly for this part, which is why it worked much better for the homespun Janet Gaynor five years later. It really doesn't make sense that a lady who can handle herself with complete ease after being dragged to a movie premiere and unexpectedly shoved in front of a microphone would suddenly turn into a klutz in front of a movie camera in a studio screen test. At one point Bennett is seen to converse in flawless, fluent French and we can only wonder how a lowly waitress with naïve dreams of movie stardom ever got that kind of linguistic education. The only explanation could be that the casting of Bennett required compromises. In any case, her natural charm carries her through.

    At times the story drags. Neil Hamilton as the stuffed shirt husband adds to the dead weight. The sound quality in the outdoor scenes is weak and tinny. Gregory Ratoff as a studio chieftain has fun but his accent is a bit too thick given the limitations of the recording techniques of the time. Louise Beavers, as always, enlivens her small role as Bennett's maid.
  • Pre-Code insider's look at Hollywood, a precursor to all those STAR IS BORN films.

    Constance Bennett is a waitress at Hollywood's famed Brown Derby restaurant specifically for the chance of meeting the right contact to help her break into films. In walks Lowell Sherman, a tipsy but famous director. They take a shine to each other and he wakes up the next morning to find her asleep on his living room couch. He invites her to test for a small part in a film, but she's terrible.

    She works all night on her little scene and finally gets it right. Of course she makes a hit and becomes a big star. She's never romantically involved with Sherman, who's more interested in the bottle. She has everything she ever wanted and marries a stuffy rich boy (Neil Hamilton) who never fits in.

    Eventually Bennett loses the husband and also loses Sherman as his career slips away because of his drinking. The years go by. One night she gets a call to come get Sherman out of jail where he's been locked up for be drunk and for skipping out on a bar bill. She takes him home and cleans him up, but it's too late.

    Hard-hitting story stunned a lot of viewers who wanted to believe that the lives of the Hollywood stars was a bed of roses. Bennett and Sherman are superb. Hamilton is fine as the rich husband. Also good are Gregory Ratoff as the producer and Louise Beavers as the devoted maid.

    There were insider Hollywood stories before this. Marion Davies' comedy SHOW PEOPLE showed how fame can go to an actress' head. The following STAR IS BORN films borrowed heavily from this one but the heroines in these (Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and the 2018 version) were all married to the tragic figure.

    Perhaps a bigger studio than RKO could have secured the Oscar nominations Lowell Sherman and Constance Bennett deserved for this film.
  • kidboots21 December 2012
    Warning: Spoilers
    In 1932 Constance Bennett probably didn't think her popularity would come to an end. With "Common Clay" (1930) she had revived the "sin" movie, the plot became hackneyed with over use but she remained the Queen. Of course it was her private life that kept movie patrons queueing up for her films (which were not all top quality) as well as reading what the outspoken Constance had to say on any number of subjects, usually on why she needed her astronomical salary to make ends meet!!! In 1932 critics were congratulating her on her best performance in years in "Lady With a Past" and then she was offered the role of Mary Evans in the movie which would cement her reputation for all time - "What Price Hollywood?".

    Originally entitled "The Truth About Hollywood" and planned by Selznick as a "sensational comeback" film for Clara Bow, Adela Rogers St. John wrote the script but on visiting Clara, she told Selznick that she was too contented with married life to bother returning to films, so Constance was offered the part (Clara would have been fantastic in it). Another film dealing with the "real" Hollywood (about the influx of vocal coaches and teachers when movies first began to talk) "Once in a Lifetime" was released the same year but was not so well received.

    Mary Evans (Bennett), a waitress at the Brown Derby, dreams of going into the movies (the opening scene where she uses all the products the movie stars swear by and swoons over Clark Gable is one of the best). She is given plenty of encouragement by the patrons and she finally gets a lucky break when one of her customers, alcoholic director Max Carey (Lowell Sherman) takes her to a movie premiere. As a special favour for looking after him when he passes out, she is given a screen test - "hibuddyyouhaven't proposedtomeyettonight"!!! and she is terrible but, in another excellent scene, she goes home and rehearses her lines until she is perfect, and a star is born - America's Pal!!!

    She meets and marries high society polo player, Lonnie Borden (handsome Neil Hamilton) but their wedding turns into a Hollywood circus with zealous fans tearing her gown and veil. Mary doesn't know Lonnie particularly well but soon realises that he wants her to become refined and cultured and is also uncomfortable around her movie friends who he considers crass and vulgar. She refuses to give them up, especially Max, whose career has hit the skids. Really Lowell Sherman gives the best performance in the film, initially carefree, whose antics provide a lot of mirth then in a splendid scene when he talks about "there is nothing inside me anymore"!! Just a wonderful performance. The film wraps up minutes after Sherman's big scene. Mary has gone to France to live reclusively with her little son but Lonnie follows her and they kiss passionately at the fadeout!!!

    "What Price Hollywood" was later revamped as the classic "A Star is Born" and the story went that it was purported to be the story of John Bowers, who committed suicide because he couldn't find work and felt his career was eclipsed by his wife's, Margueritte De La Motte. But neither of them were as big as the stars depicted in the film and because the tragic events took place in 1936 - it couldn't have been the basis for the 1932 movie.
  • Catch that early scene in the Brown Derby where Carey (Sherman) queries a cross-dresser on her choice of tailors. It passes quickly and we never see more in medium shot than a slender back in slacks and jacket. Nonetheless, that glimpse of Hollywood exotica comes, I expect, from writer Rowland Brown whose Blood Money (1933) was an extended excursion into pre-Code gender-bending.

    The movie is well acted and smoothly done, but I wish it had more of that adventurous spirit. It's really a pretty tame depiction of Hollywood life-styles. After all, how surprising is it that the fast track drives some folks to drink. Sherman is excellent in the role, but surprisingly we're never shown why he drinks. Specifically, what is it about the industry that prompts his string of drunken sarcasms. We get the effects, but not the causes. Similarly, how surprising is it that the fast track puts strains on a marriage. Nosy gossip-mongers and late night work hours are understandable strains, but hardly peculiar to Hollywood marriages, though the scale here is admittedly much larger.

    My point is that the movie works well as an entertaining melodrama, especially as a behind- the-scenes look at a sound stage. However, it's hardly an expose of the type implied in the title—note how kindly paternal the studio head (Ratoff) is portrayed, contrary to the hard- nosed industry reputation. I guess I was expecting something more daring from this pre- Code period, and an ending that didn't suggest the smarmy requirements of the 1950's. Despite its considerable virtues, the movie strikes me as precisely the kind of safe insider's view that the studios of the day could endorse.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Director/Actor Lowell Sherman was a major star in the early 1930's, but yet he is mostly forgotten today, perhaps because he appears to be a "poor man's John Barrymore". That being said (and the fact that research I did on him revealed he was a close friend of "The Great Profile's"), Sherman on his own has a presence that cannot be denied. Not as handsome as Barrymore in his heyday as he was slightly overweight and sometimes more bombastic in his performances as a usually aging Lothario, Sherman seems like an actor whose career was guided by his ego rather than reality. In the case of "What Price Hollywood?", however, he gives his best performance, and is certainly comparable to Fredric March and James Mason in the film's two unofficial (and much better well known) remakes.

    George Cukor, directing Barrymore and Katharine Hepburn the very same year in the outstanding "A Bill of Divorcement", is at the helm here, and just like he would later do with the Judy Garland/James Mason 1954 version of "A Star is Born", the focus is on the emotions charged up by the relationship of the star who is born (in this case the beautiful Constance Bennett) and the man who discovers her (Sherman) and makes her a big star after simply spotting her on the set of one of his films. He's not the leading man like Norman Maine was; He's the director, having enjoyed the Hollywood spotlight a bit too much, and now suffering from obvious alcohol problems.

    Unlike Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester and Norman Maine, Bennett and Sherman do not end up in a romantic relationship, but are simply colleagues whose admiration goes beyond a working relationship. So when she becomes a huge star and his reputation at the studio begins to suffer, it is up to her to save him from himself, but at what price? The romantic lead here is Neil Hamilton, later Commissioner Gordon on "Batman", who loves Bennett but isn't willing to simply be known as the husband of a star. He wants a real marriage with her but is aghast at the absurdities of the publicity machine, especially a rather obnoxious Hedda/Louella like gossip columnist (a very amusing Josephine Whittell) whom Hamilton puts down much to Bennett's dismay.

    He's also greatly offended by Sherman's constant infiltration into their lives and this causes a great deal of tension in the marriage. Sherman really shows the dangers of extreme drunkenness, especially when he threatens to set their house on fire. It's up to Bennett to step in, now alone, and try to sober him up for good, even though she knows he's through in Hollywood. A shocking twist has her fighting to save her career, and Bennett must rise above her pride and sudden success to figure out what the important things to her really are.

    Unique enough to stand out on its own, this is still considered by film historians the first unofficial version of "A Star is Born", and it ranks as truly powerful drama. Why it isn't more well known is quite a mystery in itself, especially since the film parallels some real-life scandals which took place the same year of its release. Gregory Ratoff plays the studio head who is devoted to both director and star but is in a powerless position to help them after some bad publicity. Louise Beavers is amusing as Bennett and Hamilton's maid. If the screenplay based upon Adela Rogers St. John hadn't been so well written, this might have dwindled down into sappy melodrama, but thanks to the superb writing and outstanding performances, this ranks as one of the top films of the pre-code era and a true Hollywood story that "E" has told over and over again many times.
  • Whenever I see an old movie on VHS I usually pick it up because 3 out of 4 times I'm not disappointed. And this movie was one of the 3 times. I read up on it to find out what it was about before watching it. Apparently it's what all those "A Star Is Born" remakes was modeled on. The "tell all" inside Hollywood story. This one had really top notch acting by the irrepressible Constance Bennet and Lowell Sherman as the famous director who gives Constance her break. I've never seen or heard of Sherman before but he was just a complete joy to watch here as the famous film director at the top of his field and the bottom of a bottle. He was as witty as any film drunk ever was and more funny. I wouldn't call this a comedy but it was a really fun ride. If I had to say anything critical about this film, I'd say that they tacked on a happy ending just to give audiences closure and though it felt weak, I can understand why they did and don't feel bad about it because the movie was so much fun overall.
  • One of George Cukor's earliest successes before his glory years at MGM was this classic What Price Hollywood. Done at RKO it's the story of three star crossed people and that's literal for one of them.

    Constance Bennett plays Mary Evans who is discovered by drunken director Lowell Sherman while working as a waitress at the famous Brown Derby in Hollywood. In 1932 that was the place to be if one wanted to be discovered because all the Hollywood celebrities dined there at one time or another. Including those like Sherman who liked their cuisine strictly liquid and at that time illegal.

    You might think that playing a movie star was no stretch for Connie Bennett. But she and her sisters Joan and Barbara were of a distinguished theatrical family with father Richard Bennett in Hollywood himself at that time. She was as far removed from Mary Evans in real life as you can get, still Bennett got deep inside the part.

    Sherman might have modeled his character on any number of distinguished Hollywood lushes. He probably took bits from all of them, but his director is uniquely his own, at once self centered, talented, vain and frail.

    The third part of this triangle is Neil Hamilton, polo playing scion of a prominent society family who is introduced to Bennett when he smacks her with a polo ball. It was definitely love at first sight, but love between them takes a rocky road.

    Hollywood has never been easy on itself. The movie industry figures that the scandals they've had are all too public so honesty is probably the best policy. In the sound era What Price Hollywood is one of the first of a long line of critical examination of the movie industry that also includes The Big Knife, The Bad And The Beautiful, Callaway Went Thataway and Two Weeks In Another Town. And of course we can't forget A Star Is Born in its original and remakes.

    What Price Hollywood got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. As its done before the Code, it holds up well today as a mark of distinguished and mature film making.
  • I agree that this is a fine film. It seems to be in rotation on TCM, and is worth watching for.

    My only problem is that we never see what put Max in this self-destructive spiral, and most importantly, who WAS he before he became an out-of-control drunk. (Fellow reviewer "dougdoepke" touched briefly on this.)

    The film would have been stronger with some initial scenes that showed Max working successfully. Instead, he's a heavy alcoholic right from the start - certainly more charming and functional than what we see at the end of the film, but still barely able to stand or speak. (Sure, it's a late night party, but then he wakes up the next day and immediately starts drinking again. He's never NOT drunk.)
  • Warning: Spoilers
    When you see this film, it sure reminds you of the 1937 film "A Star is Born"--so much that you assume that "What Price Hollywood?" was reworked into this later screen success. So much is similar--too much is similar for it to be a coincidence.

    The film begins with Constance Bennett working as a waitress at the Brown Derby restaurant (it's really cool seeing this building). One of the customers is a drunken director (Lowell Sherman). Sherman is a very happy drunk and gets Bennett to quit her job and go to a big Hollywood premier with him. From this strange meeting, the two eventually go on to make great movies together. However, now that Bennett is a star, life for her is tough. While she is very successful, her private life is practically non-existent and a brief failed marriage proves this. At the same time, Sherman falls deeper and deeper into alcoholism until he is living on the street and Bennett spends much of her time trying to locate and then rehabilitate him. There is much, much more to the story, but I don't want to spoil it by saying more.

    Overall, a fascinating story that is very watchable. However, it's not as good as "A Star is Born"--mostly because the ending seems a bit of a letdown. A very good film--one of Bennett's best.
  • What Price Hollywood? (1932)

    *** (out of 4)

    This film is best remembered for influencing A Star is Born but it stands on its own pretty well. Constance Bennett plays a waitress working at The Brown Derby who gets a break when she meets a hot director (Lowell Sherman). The director puts her in the pictures, her fame goes up but things start to change after her marriage. All of this is surrounded by the director's need for alcohol. As you can tell, the future Fredric March film contains pretty much the same story but the biggest difference here is that we get some nice pre-code moments. I guess mistreating women was a big thing after The Public Enemy was released a year earlier because there's an really bizarre sequence where Neil Hamilton breaks into the bedroom of Bennett, carries her off and then forces food down her mouth. Bennett gets to wear some pretty sexy outfits as well but it's her performance that works. She's extremely good in her early scenes as the waitress tries to break into Hollywood. We get to see her first audition, which she messed up very badly, and you can't help but think the actress is just reliving experiences. Sherman steals the film as the drunken director who really gets to shine in terms of drama and comedy. Of course being 1932 most of the alcoholism is played for laughs. The film's biggest problem is that the middle half turns into pure melodrama, which really ruins all the satire and spoof of the opening segments. When Bennett and Hamilton are married we have to sit through countless scenes of them fighting and these scenes are rather tiresome as they don't offer anything we've haven't seen countless times.
  • While this is Bennett's film, and she shimmers in her pre-code couture, Lowell Sherman puts in an equally excellent performance. He plays the role of the alcoholic director with such grace that is almost makes me cry.

    This is by far the best version of this story. Instead of being juiced up with a lot of overdone sequences, it is real and solid and, ultimately really painful and human.

    Cukor, who I believe may be the best director of all time, keeps his touch light, as always.

    Ron
  • Although there had already been many films made about Hollywood and filmmaking by 1932 (Behind the Screen (1916), "The Extra Girl" (1923), "Ella Cinders" (1926), "Show People" (1928) and "Free and Easy" (1930), to name a few), "What Price Hollywood?" is sometimes considered the first of a particularly-persistent formula retitled "A Star Is Born" in subsequent editions, or remakes. Hollywood, alone, has made four versions since and thus far (there are, at least, also two from Bollywood). These pictures feature two stars, one of who is an alcoholic with his career in decline while the ingénue he discovers begins to reach the pinnacle of her career. The main intrigue of these meta narratives, as I see it, is in how these lead characters reflect the real-life images of the stars portraying them.

    In the 1937 film, the career of Janet Gaynor, the first Best-Actress-Oscar winner, was actually in decline, which if anything was more reflective of the alcoholic part played by Fredric March, whose own Hollywood stardom was, in reality, more recent and would continue to thrive long after Gaynor retired. This dynamic is even more stark in the 1954 remake, where Judy Garland nominally plays the ingénue, but James Mason's addict and unreliable performer may be read as the shadow of Judy's real-life image. The 1976 and 2018 pictures are largely vanity projects of their stars: Barbra Streisand and Bradley Cooper, respectively. And, that's largely reflected on screen, too, as the real-life stars demonstrate their love for their own images. The 2018 one is, perhaps, only saved by its reflexive commentary on Lady Gaga's past in the shallow business of pop music. "What Price Hollywood?," however, casts a couple relatively minor actors in the leads. The resonance of the picture indubitably would've been enhanced had producer David O. Selznick cast his first choice of Clara Bow, or had, say, John Barrymore played the drunkard. Nevertheless, there's one talent involved here whose career may be hinted at in the mirror of this movie, and that's its director, George Cukor, who went on to helm the 1954 version, as well.

    Interestingly, unlike the subsequent iterations, the aging drunk here is a film director instead of a performer (whether an actor or singer). He also doesn't have a romance with the star he discovers, nor with anyone else on screen, for that matter. Like the boozing director within the film, Cukor, too, was living something of a double life as a homosexual in a then very homophobic society. (Indeed, a biography of Cukor is entitled "A Double Life," which is also the title of another Cukor film about acting.) These two lives surely often clashed; for one, Clark Gable (who's referenced a couple times in this film, which may seem ironic in retrospect), reportedly, had Cukor fired from the set of "Gone with the Wind" (1939) over the director's sexuality. Also reflecting the protégé part, "What Price Hollywood?" was early in Cukor's career and so represented a big break (I mean, his last job involved him being demoted on the set of "One Hour With You" (1932), although that was supposedly for reasons of incompetence). This is before he was known as a "woman's director," leading several actresses to Academy Awards and nominations, and would be nominated himself for five Oscars, winning one.

    "What Price Hollywood?" would heartily be recommended on the basis of this dynamic between the fading star-director and the rising star-actress, but, unfortunately, the picture is saddled by a dull romance and a bizarrely unfunny series of meet-cute situations. Allegedly, the focus on the romance here was insisted upon by Selznick against the objections of Cukor, who wisely wanted to concentrate on the relationship between the director and actress. This is pre-screwball, and the supposedly-witty banter doesn't work especially well in general, but it gets much worse during the courtship scenes. To land herself a millionaire, waitress-turned-actress Mary Evans contrives to act obnoxiously in front of said millionaire (and polo player--seemingly to make sure I don't care for him right off the bat) Lonny Borden. Things get worse from there, as Mary stands Lonny up for an expensive dinner date she had him plan for her. Next, Lonny brakes into Mary's bedroom (he literally breaks the glass of her door to get in) and kidnaps her, so as to take her to that dinner. Then, he force feeds her! A reasonable viewer might consider this sort of behavior sociopathic and, in Lonny's case, at least, potentially criminal. Compare this to the non-romantic first meeting between Mary and "big-time" director Max Carey, which is actually cute and amusing. Additionally, the humor involving African-American, and one French, servants is dated.

    When the narrative focuses on Hollywood and filmmaking, it's quite good. As opposed to the "natural" stars of subsequent versions, we see Mary here needing to practice acting after she blows her first audition. Indeed, she was only a waitress whose only evident training in acting consisted of her practicing in front of a mirror the looks of stars she sees in fan magazines and of imitating the accent of either Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo (point is, she's not very good at it--although, later, she more-obviously imitates the singing of Dietrich for a scene in one of Max and Mary's films). These early shots of Mary practicing her reflection stand in contrast to later scenes where Carey looks in the mirror and has nightmarish flashes (there's also an interesting newspaper montage with symbolic, dreamlike imagery). Additionally, during the backstage filmmaking scenes, there are frequent shots focusing on the crew, which is something less seen in the later star-driven versions of "A Star Is Born," where the focus is almost exclusively on the leads.

    Although "What Price Hollywood?" is an odd mix of melodrama and a flat comedy of remarriage, the friendship between Carey and Mary sustains the picture. It also adds heft to Selznick's otherwise rosy picture of Hollywood, with a scenario that holds most of its ire for the press. Carey never makes a pass at her, the would-be "America's Pal." As the oddly-accented producer tells Mary at one point, "The public don't understand relations like between you and Carey." It's no wonder that the best version of "A Star Is Born" would be when Cukor directed Garland, who had already become a tragic figure and gay icon by 1954.
  • Clever scenes help the tale of a young woman (Constance Bennett) who becomes a success in the film capital. It is less formulaic and there is much less Cinderellla nonsense than one finds in other stories of this nature. Instead, it is a searing look at lives and careers in Hollywood, given David Selznick's sharp production values and the benefit of George Cukor's sure guidance behind the camera.

    Selznick would rework the concept five years later with director William Wellman for A Star Is Born, with Janet Gaynor taking over Miss Bennett's role. Both versions are excellent, with or without the added use of Technicolor. But this earlier production seems a bit more mesmerizing, perhaps because of the way the black-and-white cinematography is used to make everything shine and radiate evil at the same time. What a hypnotizing film.
  • I might recommend watching this movie, because it presented an interesting view of Hollywood in the early 1930's. I might also recommend watching this movie, because of the excellent acting by Constance Bennett, Neil Hamilton, and Gregory Ratoff. I am definitely recommending watching this movie, because of the excellent performance by Lowell Sherman! For those of you not familiar with Lowell Sherman, he was not only a distinguished motion picture and stage actor, he was also a director who directed Mae West in "She Done Him Wrong" and Katharine Hepburn in her Academy Award winning role in "Morning Glory". In this movie, he gave an Academy Award worthy performance! It's too bad he retired from acting to become a director, and that he died young, ending a promising career as a director!
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