This 1937 comedy is part satire about the motion picture industry and part farce about Hollywood studios sometimes turning our real turkeys for movies. It spoofs finicky actresses and snooty directors. The studio heads mostly get a pass. "Stand-In" is a very good comedy with some romance. It looks at the movie industry, banking and corruption in the course of the plot. The movie is based on a novel by Clarence Kelland who had some 20 books made into films.
The first sign that we're in for fun is the early Hollywood disclaimer that runs at the start of the movie. It reads, "The characters and events depicted in this motion picture are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental." And, boy, are there some real coincidences in this movie.
The film then opens with some funny scenes in the New York offices of the Pettypacker Bank firm. The grandfather and head of the firm calls Atterbury Dodd a "pig-headed young man." When it switches to California, we see a radio announcer, Rush Hughes, who's using his actual name. He is mimicking the gossip reporters of the day (Walter Winchell in New York, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons in Hollywood). He is on the air talking about Dodd's expected arrival to save Colossal. In the gossip fashion of the day, he says, "Colossal is not sick. It's dying from slow poisoning. My guess is it's an inside job engineered by an outside chiseler with the aid of which fading feminine super sex star and what cheese director with a phony foreign accent? Don't ask."
Leslie Howard stars as Dodd, a stuffed shirt banker who's a whiz with numbers but very shy on the human side. Joan Blondell is perfect as Lester Plum, a sometimes actress and trained secretary who takes an immediate liking to Dodd. Humphrey Bogart is Quintain, the acting head of Colossal Studio and producer of the current film that will keep the studio afloat if it's a box office hit.
But contributing to the film's downfall are a host of folks who are in on a ruse – all with different deals worked out with Ivor Nassau, president of the Hollywood Cinema Finance Co. He buys troubled studios for a song and then closing them down, putting a few thousand employees out of work. He makes money on the property and salvage. C. Henry Gordon plays Nassau. The people in the employ of Colossal who are making the next film to bomb are the real test for Dodd when he arrives to take charge. He has to try to learn the business if he's going to save it.
Marla Shelton is the glamour headliner, Cheri, whose star is fast fading. Alan Mowbray is the fake foreign director, Koslofski. And, Jack Carson is the studio publicity man, Tom Potts. Carson's role is particularly grating – he plays the loudmouth PR pusher perfectly. Mowbray's Koslofski is overboard. All of these characters come across as hammy – no doubt intended that way.
And that works well against Howard's Dodd who, though an expert numbers cruncher, is very naive about the goings-on in movie productions. Quintain and Lester come to his rescue, and Dodd turns over a leaf that surprises all and saves the studio in the end for the people -- the employees and the stockholders. Some other characters figures in the early scenes before Dodd sets off for California. Tully Marshall is especially good as Fowler Pettypacker, the grandfather and head of the family banking firm, of which Dodd has been the executive manager. Today his position would be called a CEO. Fowler's son and grandson are on his board of directors – and they're two robot "yes" men.
This is a fine film for Howard in a role that shows his versatility as an actor. I sometimes find Joan Blondell a little aggravating in her films in which her part seems to go overboard; but she's just right in this film. I think it's one of her better comedy roles.
The comedy here is in a combination of witty lines and delivery and some hammy filming and acting scenes. The film mixes in some sweetness as Dodd comes out of his shell. One hilarious scene has Quintain a little tipsy and being turned away at the door of a favorite nightspot. He has ad boards over his head that read, "This café is unfair to Quintain." His Scotty dog on a leash has ad boards on him that read, "This café is unfair to me too."
Here are a few funny lines from the film. Dodd, "Miss Plum, I sometimes find it difficult to differentiate between facetiousness and sincerity." Lester Plum, "Tell me. Did your studies reveal any faint trace of beauty?" Dodd, "Well, you must be rather beautiful, Miss Plum. Otherwise the impulse to observe you would never have occurred to me." Miss Plum, "You're capable of great restraint in your admiration."
Dodd, "But I know you. I require someone who can't be corrupted and who will be absolutely faithful to me." Lester, "Strangely, most men like women that are faithful but that corrupt easily."
Quintain, "You realize that this makes you a libertine and a charlatan, don't you?" Dodd, "Yes, I'm fully aware of that. I'm quite willing to make the sacrifice."