Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein’s serviceable updating of J. M. Barrie’s 1912 play Rosalind makes for one of Irving Rapper’s most entertaining films, and one that leads to an emotionally complex, haunting finish after a pothole or two on the road to getting-there. Ginger Rogers plays Beatrice Page, an “aging” stage actress still playing 29-year-old characters to maintain the currency of her Broadway career. And why not? Beatrice toils in an accepted realm of illusions, and, according to “the kid,” produce market employee and aspiring playwright Stanley Krown, Beatrice looks no older than 29. Rogers, in fact, looks great, and more gorgeous than in the 1930s—and good grief! William Holden, who plays Stanley, is all of SEVEN years younger than Rogers. (“The kid” is way too big for any cradle that Beatrice may be accused of “robbing.”) Much to the chagrin of her devoted ex-husband and ongoing producer, E. Harry Phillips, Beatrice and Stanley become lovers; but Harry himself is partly to blame: pressing together “the kid” and Lady Methuselah is Harry’s decision to produce Stanley’s first play now that Stanley has revised it, changing the age of the daughter in it from 19 to 29. Meanwhile, a 23-year-old aspiring actress who initially bills herself as Sally Carver wants both the part as written in the play’s original version and the play’s author. “The kid” also seems somewhat interested in Sally, but the sellout of corrupting his play for the sake of possible career advancement may have shut the door between them for good.
Although it is, regrettably, convincing (still) on the subject of the relatively short shelf life of actresses, this smart, funny, at times elegant comedy-drama lives largely for its wonderful performances, the best of the lot being the brilliant one that Bill “Kid” Holden delivers. American cinema’s eternal Golden Boy, an authentic national treasure, starts off Stanley in a familiar vein of biting, clench-jawed arrogance and cynicism, and thereafter very gradually opens the floodgates of Stanley’s vulnerability, confusion and self-uncertainty until the viewer is left in heartache. My goodness, this guy could act! (And he won the year’s best actor Oscar—but for a different film: Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17.)
Four more members of the cast shine. Rogers is one of them. For my taste, her Beatrice is too choppy and emphatic early on—this, a set-up for the character’s gradual humanization; but the humility, wisdom and tenderness that Rogers brings to bear result in terrific work that includes what may be the finest, most moving scene of the actress’s legendary career. In it, Beatrice provides Stanley with a good look at the alleged disheveled crone underneath her glamorpuss makeup. (Since her freckles are nowhere visible, Rogers must still be wearing plenty.) “The kid” runs back to Sally.
Paul Douglas is excellent as Harry, Marjorie Rambeau (who played the prostitute-mom of Ginger’s shantytown Ellie May in Gregory La Cava’s Primrose Path, 1940) is a hoot in a cameo, playing herself, and Maidie Norman—remember Blanche’s maid, confidante and protector in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Robert Aldrich, 1962?—is strong and self-possessed as Beatrice’s maid here. Alas, African-American thespians found available to them a paucity of parts in white-centered films in those days, a reflection of actual black roles in dominantly white U.S. society. However, two years earlier Norman had proven her gifts in a plum role, as the mother in Leo C. Popkin and Russell Rouse’s The Well—and still, here, with Forever Female, the studio, Paramount, would not even list her name in the credits: one step forward, two steps back.
Pat Crowley, who plays Sally, won a Golden Globe, the Pia Zadora Prize, as Paramount was grooming her for serious stardom. (An ad at the end of the film predicts her golden future.) The grating Crowley more or less went straight to television, where she has toiled, without apparent distinction, since.
Billed as Marian Ross, Happy Days-mom Marion Ross also has a small part.
If I’m not mistaken, in a drum-rolling ploy, Paramount premiered Forever Female on American television. Those were the days when Hollywood feared that T.V. was gunning for the demise of America’s habit of going to the movies.
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