"A woman's laugh is very often a mating call." - Stanley Krown (William Holden) in Forever Female.
Paramount's 1953 production Forever Female is an enjoyable spin on themes already explored in All About Eve. The contemporary, Broadway-set comedy has the same gossipy, backstage feel, with acidic barbs rubbing shoulders with unexpected moments of poignancy. Like Eve, it deals with a mature, popular stage actress - played by Ginger Rogers - refusing to age gracefully and taking on parts better suited for much younger women. William Holden stews nicely as the disillusioned playwright who must alter his script to the star's whims, while Paul Douglas gets some of the film's most biting lines as the play's producer and Rogers' ex-husband. There's an "Eve" here, too, although the character (played by brittle newcomer Pat Crowley) serves less as Rogers' adversary than as a force to get Holden to face reality.
In a way, Forever Female could also be seen as a less-morbid Sunset Boulevard, with William Holden once again getting romantically involved with a deluded, faded (in this case, fading) celebrity. In the film, Holden's Stanley Krown is a grocery store employee who writes plays on the side. He manages to get his latest script - a serious drama exploring a mother-daughter relationship - in the hands of producer E. Harry Phillips (Douglas), who seizes upon it as an excellent vehicle for his ex-wife, Broadway star Beatrice Page (Rogers). Beatrice agrees that Stanley's play would be a good way for her to break out of the routine comedies she's known for, but only if she can play the daughter character and not the mother role that Stanley intended for the '40s-aged actress. Stanley reluctantly goes along with advancing the daughter character's age from 19 to 29, knowing full well that the rejiggered play has lost its meaning with two adults as the leads. Meanwhile, kooky yet ambitious actress Sally Carver (Crowley) has gotten a look at Stanley's unadulterated play and begs the playwright to have it produced as intended - with her in the daughter role, of course. Caught between massaging the ego of a deluded star and staying true to himself, Stanley appears to be taking the sellout route - until the opportunity arises to see his creation finally done the right way.
If it wasn't for the interest in catty backstage drama fueled by 1950's All About Eve, it seems likely that Forever Female would never have been produced. The movie avoids coming across like a knockoff, however, thanks mainly to an incisive script by Philip and Julius Epstein (Casablanca). Despite being adapted from a 1912 stage play by Peter Pan creator J. M. Barrie, the Epsteins breathe a lot of life into the story with fresh, slangy dialogue and a strictly contemporary milieu straight out of a Walter Winchell column. Sure, the dialogue can get stylized and overly precious at times (were the brothers the twin Aaron Sorkins of the day?), but any implausibilities in the speech/story get smoothed over by a competent cast and the fluid direction of Irving Rapper (Now, Voyager). Compared with Eve, this film actually has a better grasp on theatre life and how careers rise and fall on a single production, although the casting here is slightly weaker. Holden does a variant on the same sort of disillusioned men he was playing at the time (although he's great at it), while Pat Crowley's hard-edged performance succumbs to the same faults Stanley Krown criticizes of Beatrice - she's artificial, mannered and too-cute. Her character was supposed to be obnoxious, however, so in that sense she nailed it. I enjoyed Ginger Rogers' mix of coquettishness and vulnerability as Beatrice, however, and Paul Douglas' gruff yet commonsensical Harry was a joy.
Forever Female is also notable for having a couple of future television stars in lesser roles. George Reeves (The Adventures of Superman) appears briefly as Beatrice's square dinner date, while Marion Ross (Happy Days) has a couple of cute scenes as Sally's timid roommate.
Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and other sources, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
The Blu Ray:
The 1.37:1 picture on Olive's Blu Ray edition uses a spiffy looking print with only slight instances of wear and tear. Pinholes and specks are kept at a minimum, while there aren't any instances of uneven or degraded reels. The crisp mastering pleasantly brings out the black and white photography's textures, while the dark levels look rich without appearing murky.
The film's mono soundtrack is preserved here decently, with not too many instances of flaws and age. Dialogue and scoring are kept at pleasant levels with no outstanding instances of distortion. As with Olive's other products, no subtitles are included.
Second-hand as it is (call it All About Eve, Part II), the perceptive, enjoyable 1953 comedy Forever Female sheds some light on the theater world and society's role for aging women with intelligence and heart. Olive Films' spartan Blu Ray edition gives this overlooked jewel some polish. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.