It’s easy to write-off Ginger Rogers as the second half of a famous partnership with Fred Astaire. After all it is the ten films they made together which has helped cement her place in film history.
But she’s not just your typical classic movie star. No, she was a real working actress with talent. One who was equally at home in musicals, comedies and dramas. She held her own against respected actresses like Janet Gaynor and Katharine Hepburn and co-starred with in demand actors such as William Powell, Cary Grant & James Stewart.
Without intentionally planning it, I have seen a large majority of Roger’s films and was on the lookout for a new one to review for this blogathon. Forever Female perfectly fit the bill. It is one of her less discussed films, which is unfortunate given Rogers gives an excellent performance. It also boasts William Holden and Paul Douglas as cast members and talented screenwriting brothers Julius (who won and Oscar for Casablanca) & Phillip Epstein.
Rogers is Beatrice Page, an aging actress who refuses to acknowledge she can no longer credibly play ingenues. Paul Douglas is her producer ex-husband, Harry, who also happens to be her closest friend.
Enter William Holden as aspiring playwright Stanley Krown, who gives Beatrice a fearlessly honest review of her performance one night. Intrigued, she and Harry read Krown’s play and decide it is perfect for Beatrice. It only takes a few tweaks, the most contentious being a change to the age of Beatrice’ character to make it a fit for her.
Meanwhile, aspiring young actress Sally Carver aka Peggy Pruitt aka Clara Mootz, blithely insinuates herself into their circle hoping to steal the part away from Beatrice Page. Her insistence that Beatrice and Harry’s changes to the play are ruining it, feed Stanley’s private doubts. But he has worked too long and hard for his big break to express these doubts. Not to mention, he is falling hard for Beatrice herself.
Several IMDb reviewers compared this to All About Eve, albeit a lighter version. Personally, it reminded me very much of Clark Gable’s film But Not For Me which I watched and reviewed earlier this year.
Both feature aging stars working in the theater. Both also feature an ex who can’t stay out of the picture and a romance with a young ingenue. And both play the script for laughs. Unfortunately like in But Not For Me, Forever Female is also almost de-railed by the cringe-worthy performance of the actress in the ingenue role.
Pat Crowley is “introduced” to the American audience as the aspiring actress Clara Mootz, whose rotating list of aliases is almost as ridiculous as her over the top performance and her use of the word siamese in every exclamation she utters.
Crowley somewhat resembles Maggie McNamara who co-starred with William Holden in The Moon is Blue. I couldn’t help thinking McNamara would have been perfect in this role. Her naivety is so much more sincere than Crowley’s misplaced exuberance. Too, McNamara’s chemistry with Holden would have livened up him up a bit. As it is, as much as I hate to say it, Holden not only looks haggard, but conveys as much energy in his part as an eighty year old man. And thanks to Pat Crowley’s portrayal, it’s impossible to understand why on earth Holden’s Stanley Krown would develop any interest in Clara. Equally perplexing is why he, Beatrice and Harry put up with her presence in any capacity.
And speaking of Holden, I believe he may have been miscast as the wanna-be playwright who works at the market and gifts Beatrice with bouquets of fruit and vegetables. The part really does call for a younger actor and not one who looks quite so world-weary. I mean, can anyone really believe Holden as a grocery boy turned playwright at this stage in his career?
However, despite these complaints, I still liked Forever Female better than I expected to. One reason for this is the script by the Epstein brothers. It allows for depth but also some really cute and honest moments, particularly between Beatrice and Harry. There are some witty lines too. My favorite being when Stanley enters Beatrice’s apartment, his pockets bulging with oranges only for Harry to say with relief upon discovering the fruit that he thought Stanley had thyroid issues. Rogers’ Beatrice gets the best of the script’s character development and even Clara Mootz shows some maturity by the end.
The other highlight of this film is the performances given by Rogers and Paul Douglas. Douglas is an actor who has grown in my esteem with each picture of his I’ve seen. This one is no exception. He and Rogers keep the characters of the producer still in love with his ex-wife and an actress who can’t let go of her youth from becoming cliches.
The chemistry between them is fabulous. Their tenderness with each other, their silly bickering, their true understanding of each other, even Beatrice’s constant ribbing about unpaid alimony (another similarity to But Not For Me), all prove their genuine affection for each other. Whether that affection is merely friendship or maybe a bit more keeps the audience guessing.
Even though the script gives the greatest character development to her character, it is Rogers who makes the most of it. There is a scene at the end where she is honest both with herself and the men in her life, which just may be my favorite Rogers scene ever. It’s so sincere, so vulnerable, so true and yet shows Beatrice’ previously hidden inner strength. Her interactions with Clara Mootz also display great compassion and understanding in a way only Ginger Rogers could pull off credibly.
I can understand why Forever Female is not mentioned as frequently as some of Ginger Rogers’ more popular and critically acclaimed films, Still I think it deserves to be better known. Perhaps a new generation can discover it and the greatness that is Ginger Rogers at her best. I know I sure have.
Thanks to Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood and Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting and allowing me to share this review in their Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon. Please visit their sites and check out the other entries on these Hollywood legends.