“Behind the enchantment of the footlights there is the hard reality of the long climb to success. Mere talent is not enough — there must be, in the heart of the young player, a burning love of the stage which would sacrifice all else. This is the story of Louise Mauban — a dramatic student — and her love the theatre,” the opening titles read on 1938’s Dramatic School.

The film follows Louise Mauban (Luise Rainer), a talented young woman who studies at the National School of Dramatic Arts in Paris, France. Louise doesn’t have many friends at the school. The girls from her class invite her out on occasion, but she always turns them down, saying that she already has plans.

(Image via luiserainer.net)
(Image via luiserainer.net)

In truth, she is working in a factory to pay for her education. One night, the factory is visited by Gina Bertier (Genevieve Tobin), an actress trying to get in the right frame of mind for her new role as a working girl. Accompanying her is the Marquis D’Abbencourt (Alan Marshall), to whom Louise takes a liking immediately.

She begins to daydream about what a lavish life they’d lead together, and tells outlandish stories about the Marquis to her classmates (Paulette Goddard, Lana Turner, and others), who all believe that the stories are true.

Robert B. Sinclair directs Dramatic School, a dramedy of romance and the journey to fame. The film aired on TCM last month as part of a birthday tribute/memorial to Luise Rainer.

This film has a very interesting cast, full of familiar faces! Paulette Goddard is stellar as Nana, and Luise Rainer as Louise. The two characters are total opposites. Nana is cynical, jealous, and outspoken; Louise is quiet, polite, and spends a lot of time lost in her own head.

(Image via Hollywood Revue)
(Image via The Hollywood Revue)

The contrast between them adds an element of interest to their scenes together, and is fascinating to watch. They butt heads, but also have an odd sort of respect for each other, and by the end of the film they’ve bonded. I only wish they shared a greater number of scenes!

The pace of the film is a little bit slower than I would prefer, but it improves a bit at about the half-way mark, with a party scene. Rainer and Alan Marshall’s scenes together, after the party, are wonderful — fun, with a heavy dose of quirk. Louise has cooked up many “plays” about the Marquis, and then shares them all with him!

Another actress might have given these scenes a creep factor. While Luise plays Louise very lovably, as a well-intentioned girl with her head in the clouds, the character’s dialogue could have easily come across as the words of a stalker. Luise’s performance, and her chemistry with Marshall save the film from this fate.

Dramatic School is a sweet film, with a heartwarming ending and very good performances, particularly by Goddard and Rainer. Though it’s not a flawless picture, I liked it and would recommend that you keep an eye out for it to pop up on TCM again. The score: 3.5/5