Stage Door (1937)
1930s Hollywood wasn't always sure what to do with the snap, crack, and fire of Katharine Hepburn; for every knockout role (Morning Glory, Little Women, Alice Adams), there was a mighty disaster (Spitfire, Break of Hearts, even Sylvia Scarlett, a famed flop before recently gaining cult cachet). On the verge of being labeled box-office poison, Hepburn made one of the best films of her career, Stage Door, a much-needed comedic break after a series of intense melodramas. Based on Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman's play, Stage Door is a collection of barbed witticisms about theatrical life delivered at breakneck speed by director Gregory La Cava and a cast full of wisecracking wise gals. Hepburn is all fine edges as Terry Randall, a wealthy socialite bitten by the acting bug who moves into a dowdy but spirited boardinghouse for stage wannabes. There, she meets her match in Ginger Rogers, a revelation (for those who know her only as Fred Astaire's partner) as tough, cynical Jean Maitland. Adolphe Menjou tops off the ensemble in a role he practically patented, the oily producer. Legend has it that La Cava let Hepburn make up her own lines for an onstage scene and she chose the infamous "callah lilies are in bloom again" from her Broadway disaster The Lake. Like those lines, this movie is immortal.