16 September 1998 | Oll-2
A MUST for Claude Rains fans!
As a biographical film, "The Lady With Red Hair" (the story of how director /producer/playwright David Belasco transformed notorious society divorcee Mrs. Leslie Carter into an international stage star) is certainly not in a league with that other Warner's biopic of similar vintage, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (what is?), but "Lady" is an enjoyable film in its own right--AND shares quite a few traits in common with the Cagney classic.
Like "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "The Lady With Red Hair" brims over with old -time show-business flavor. (Among other things, both films feature delicious theatrical boarding-house sequences as well as the inevitable scenes set backstage and in theatrical managers' offices.) Also, in "Lady" as in the Cohan biopic, the supporting cast is made up of familiar and beloved character actors of the period, all doing the sort of top-notch work we remember them for.
Need I add that, again like "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "The Lady With Red Hair" doesn't let the truth get in the way of telling a good story? But, also like "Dandy," "Lady" does manage--gloriously!--to convey the esssence of its show-business-giant hero's larger-than-life personality. Everyone knows that Cagney limned Cohan for all time in his brilliant and affectionate portrayal in "Yankee Doodle Dandy"--but few moviegoers realize that Claude Rains did a similar service for David Belasco in "The Lady With Red Hair"- -and did it with a panache that almost equals Cagney's.
Rains-as-Belasco perfectly captures that legendary showman's galvanic personality in all its outsized glory. Rains gives a tremendously enjoyable , superbly observed, and remarkably true-to-life performance as the man all Broadway once called "The Wizard." To watch Claude Rains in action (looking in every shot as if he's having a helluva good time!) in "The Lady With Red Hair" is to see David Belasco leap to life on film as if he can't wait to shake things up on the Main Stem once again.