Make Me a Star (1932)

I have been watching a few interesting films this past week or so, starting with the 1932 film Make Me a Star.  Someone I know had posted a write up on the film HEARTS OF THE WEST (1975) and in part compares its theme to the 1932 film.  This reminded me that I had a copy of the earlier film and that it was as good a time as any to take a look at it.

When I purchased Make Me a Star several years ago, it was because I was attracted to the case which bore Marlene Dietrich’s name on the front and face in a star on the back cover along with several other famous actresses of the era.  I would venture to say that I have seen pretty much all of Dietrich’s films made after 1930, along with several from the silent era, but I had never heard of her acting in one with this title.  The only break she took from working with Josef von Sternberg was in 1933 when she made The Song of Songs with Rouben Mamoulian.  But despite assuming there was probably an error or misdirection in this labelling, I purchased the DVD.

Just as an aside, I remember once reading on a DVD website (was it Warners Archive?) that Dietrich was also a featured player in the TV movie Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)  which I knew for certain wasn’t true.  Marlene gets around even when she wasn’t there.

However, there is just one slight possible reason why Dietrich was credited on this 1932 production, and that is because it was a Paramount film and Dietrich worked for the same studio.  In Make Me a Star there are a number of cameos of Paramount stars who show up: Tallulah Bankhead, Clive Brook, Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Phillips Holms, Fredric March, Jack Oakie and Sylvia Sidney.  There’s always the possibility that a small clip was edited out of the film with Dietrich walking through the grounds of the studio or attending a premiere of the film-within-a-film in the theatre scene.

The other inspiration for me watching this film was because it was directed by William Beaudine who was the director of both the silent and talky films Penrod and Me, the former of which I only recently viewed at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

The story is not your usual pre-Code fare but the story of a simple man who more than anything wants to be considered a serious actor and become a Hollywood star.  You tend to see women more in this type of story, so it was refreshing and interesting to see a naïve, simple, likeable man, Merton Gill, played by Stuart Erwin take on this role.  The story was based on the novel Merton of the Movies by Harry Leon Wilson who also wrote Ruggles of Red Gap (which is amusing to know as Merton mutters lines about going to Red Gap several times while he practices acting in his bedroom or with his horse.)  His inspiration for wanting to become an actor is his idolization of cowboy movie star Buck Benson, regardless that poor Merton has only gotten as far as learning how to pose on the back of a horse.

Although Erwin was in many films in the 1930s, Joan Blondell’s name would have been a bigger draw, and here she has top billing.  She plays a sympathetic actress who feels sorry, even concern, for Merton although I couldn’t truly tell if she ever really falls for him.  She appears too sophisticated for that ever to happen, although perhaps she found him sweet and refreshing.

Besides keeping your eyes peeled for the star cameos, there are some wonderful scenes featuring favourites such as Zasu Pitts, Ben Turpin and Ruth Donnelly.

The earlier but apparently lost version of this film, Merton of the Movies, was made in 1924 and directed by James Cruze, while 23 years later in 1947 the second remake with the same title would have been more of a full-blown comedy starring Red Skelton and, surprising to me anyway, featuring Gloria Grahame.  I have that one sitting on my shelf, but it may be a while before I decide to view it.

For the people who watch, read and write about early film, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to see Make Me a Star, a film which portrays one unusual angle of breaking into the movies, this would definitely be up your alley.

2 thoughts on “Make Me a Star (1932)

  1. I’m curious to see the Red Skelton version. I didn’t know anything about the movie prior to watching, I just put it on to see Zasu and Joan. I was taken aback at how dramatic it was. For instance, the scene where Joan takes Stuart Erwin to the diner and he’s shaking from hunger. The casting of Ben Turpin and the references to cross-eyed comedies was clever. “Debasing to a noble art,” is how I’m describing any movie not to my liking.

    I have to admit some of those cameos passed me right by. I think I would have spotted Marlene though.

  2. Even though the novel was written in the early 20s and meant to be comedic, it definitely worked well as a Depression-era story. Yes, the scene leading up to the diner is quite dramatic and filled with pathos, with Erwin looking so disheveled and ashamed. Probably one of the strongest moments in the film.

    I certainly didn’t notice all the stars listed in the credits. Cooper and Bankhead are quite obvious as they even have a line or two and I was guessing that they were in the process of making DEVIL AND THE DEEP. I recognized Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney entering the theatre in the cinema scene. I may have seen Jack Oakie, but I am not a fan, so may have immediately pushed his image out of my head!

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