Mary Evans (Constance Bennett) is a waitress with aspirations of making it in Hollywood, but she realizes it’s rare to make it big in a town full of people who have the same goal.
But while working at a diner, she befriends Max Carey (Lowell Sherman), a director who gives her a big break.
On top of her budding screen success, she manages to rope in a millionaire named Lonny Borden (Neil Hamilton) and marry him.
It would seem that with a new career and a rich husband, Mary would have everything she wanted – but personal problems arise for the couple, and Mary must also worry about Max, who is an alcoholic.
George Cukor directs 1932’s What Price Hollywood? Barely two years into his career at the time of this film’s release, Cukor and his cast offer a scathing pre-code criticism of the industry in which they work. The film paints a picture of absolutely EVERYONE wanting to be in the movies, and goes on to show why those dreams may be more than a little bit delusional.
The mood in the beginning of the film is a bit silly. Mary holds a picture of Clark Gable to her cheek, fixes her makeup and hair in a style she sees in a magazine, and generally sets herself up as a bit of a dreamer. She’s quite funny and cute in this scene, which makes the viewer like her. As the film progresses, she’s made even more likable by her drive and determination as her career begins to grow.
Things don’t stay peachy for long, despite this fun beginning. Problems such as alcoholism and jealousy soon become apparent. The more Mary’s dreams come true, the more she must face such complications.
Constance Bennett, in the role of Mary, is very captivating. She has tons of screen presence, sass and wit. Cukor has no trouble pulling energetic performances from Bennett or from the other leads, which in turn gives the film a consistent energy.
The story itself provides a mix of comedy, drama, career tale, romance and social commentary. This is a great mix, though the film does have some dull moments. Overall it is engrossing and energetic, but there are a few portions where the pace could be picked up. (SPOILER TIME) In general, these slower periods are redeemed by high impact moments, such as Max’s suicide (END SPOILER TIME).
The level of drama picks up pretty greatly in the film’s second half. What Price Hollywood? never becomes quite as high on drama as I expected it to be, but it has no trouble holding the viewer’s attention.
Movies about the movie business sometimes have the limitation of only appealing to “movie people” – people who work in the business, or super-fans such as myself (and probably you, since you’re choosing to spend your time reading a classic film review right now).
What Price Hollywood? must be given credit for having a wider appeal, because even though it puts a lot of emphasis on the movie business, it has a great leading lady and a great story that delves into both the professional and personal aspects of her character’s life. Hollywood is the film’s focus, but the goal was to offer a true-to-life portrayal of life as a whole in that environment, and the film offers interesting insights rather than the usual ultra-glam angle.
Though the film ends a bit too happily considering all of the negative scenarios that the characters experience, it’s still a pretty good watch, recommended for fans of Cukor, Constance Bennett, melodrama or showbiz movies. The score: 3.5/5