DVD: ‘What Price Hollywood?’

If the story of What Price Hollywood?, the George Cukor-directed 1932 show-biz tale of an aspiring actress on the rise and an alcoholic director spiraling downward, sounds familiar to you, it’s likely because it’s something of a rough draft for A Star is Born. Not that Cukor’s film or the original story, penned by newspaperwoman-turned-screenwriter Adela Rogers St. Johns, received any credit, but the inspiration is undeniable. The 1937 A Star is Born has a more polished script and lavish budget, and its rise and fall tale has a classically tragic arc, but What Price Hollywood? is witty, spunky, adult, and bouncing with energy, a Hollywood tale right out of the pre-code sensibility of the early 1930s.

Constance Bennett is aspiring actress Mary Evans, a spunky young woman waiting tables at the Brown Derby as she tries to break into movies, and Lowell Sherman is the boozing director who wobbles into the restaurant, orders a few drinks, and invites Mary to be his date at the grand opening of his new picture. There’s no hanky panky here, it’s just another lark for big time Hollywood director Max Carey, a generous and funny guy who saves his acid wit for fellow film professions and show business celebrities. “Let me give you a tip about Hollywood,” he advises Mary. “Always keep your sense of humor and you’ll do just fine.” She plays along with his gag and he gives her a bit part as a thank you for being a good sport.

This is a snappy, sassy script with a clear-eyed view of show business dreams and reality.

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