Stand-In, 1937

A 2017 review of The Stand-In

The Story in Stand-In

Leslie Howard (as Atterbury Dodd) is an insular, dedicated executive vice president for the firm of Pettypacker and Company in New York City. When Hollywood studio Colossal Film Company, one of the properties owned by Pettypacker, is on the verge of collapse from mismanagement, the Pettypacker's decide to dump the company for $5 million dollars to notorious smooth-talking businessman Ivar Nassau (played by C. Henry Gordon). Leslie Howard steps in and protests that Colossal (on paper) is worth a lot more than $5 million. He argues with Fowler Pettypacker (Tully Marshall) who, despite having a board of directors handy, makes all the decisions at Pettypacker himself (because the board, packed with his children, always answer with 'you're always right, Grandfather!' whenever Fowler asks their opinion).

Dodd and Pettypacker make an agreement that Dodd will have complete power at Colossal Film Co., to find the problem in the management and to correct it. But if Dodd can't "then don't come back," says Fowler.


Dodd has no idea how a movie company works, but has total faith in math, and is sure that alone will be enough to sort out the mess at Colossal. But he can't even get started because Colossal publicity agent Tom Potts (played by a fast-talking Jack Carson armed with a repertoire of terrible, punning jokes) and Colossal's chief star Miss Cheri (Marla Shelton) won't leave Dodd alone. In fact, Cheri and Potts are part of a conspiracy that also includes Colossal's "cheese director" Koslofski (Alan Mowbry) who are deliberately sabotaging Colossal so that it will be sold to their partner in crime, Ivar Nassau. The only person not in on the scheme is production chief Quintain (Humphrey Bogart) who carries a little dog around with him everywhere and has a deathless crush on Miss Thelma Cheri, no matter how much she abuses his affection (which he assuages by getting regularly drunk).

Ivar Nassau (C. Henry Gordon), publicity agent Tom Potts (Jack Carson), and star Miss Cheri (Marla Shelton)

Humphrey Bogart as film producer Quintain

Enter Joan Blondell

Dodd, who is shy and terribly uncomfortable with all of the attention being foisted his way, is determined to get away from the glamour and time-wasting antics of the Colossal staff, and checks out of the mammoth hotel suite he's been placed in. He soon accidentally meets movie extra and 'stand-in' Miss Plum (Joan Blondell). She knows the movie business inside-out, having been a child star before devolving into an extra and stand-in once her stardom faded, a condition shared by many of the other secondary characters in this story.

In her introductory conversation with Dodd, she wants to know if he is a 'finder-outer' or a 'screwer-upper,' referring to the many out-of-town experts who have come into Hollywood over the years. Dodd wants to be a 'finder-outer' and he is delighted to have met someone who will give him straight-answers. Dodd soon ends up renting a room at the actors boarding-house where Miss Plum (and a variety of other bit players) all live, many of them hoping for a break or a chance at a come-back.

Sex and Satan

The ludicrous film that director Koslofski is currently shooting at Colossal is titled Sex and Satan, which takes place in a jungle (it looks like a variation of Rima the Jungle Girl and Tarzan crossed with Trader Horn) and features endless close-ups of the star, Miss Cheri. The film is way over budget and is getting no closer to being finished because of the wasteful procedures of the star (Cheri) and the director (Koslofski) who are supposedly in the midst of a off-screen romance, but who seem more like tag-teaming partners in their effort to bankrupt Colossal right into the hands of Mr. Nassau.

The studio is preparing to shoot one of the biggest scenes of the film, a snowy shot which will feature Miss Cheri skiing uphill. As the production labors to build the scene for the cameras, Miss Plum, the 'stand-in' is under the bright movie lights, heating up under the lamps while wearing Miss Cheri's winter attire, tromping on a hidden conveyor belt that makes it look like she is moving when in fact she is staying in one place for the sake of the cameras. Miss Cheri is comfortably in her dressing room waiting until she is called to shoot the scene, meanwhile Miss Plum sweats endlessly while Koslofski tries to find a camera angle he likes, and then he gives up because the edelweiss flowers on the fake Hollywood snow covered mountain are also fake.

Dodd takes charge and starts asking questions, why does this scene in Sex and Satan require real edelweiss flowers instead of the paper versions put together by the art department? Koslofski yells (in his noticeably phony accent):

"When I made my masterpiece in Russia From the Cradle to the Grave, I had a real cradle, and a real grave!"

Dodd protests that in the scene they are shooting for Sex and Satan, it is snowing and no one can see the flowers anyway. Koslofski backs down when Miss Cheri appears and starts praising Dodd's amazing insight into movie production, and they proceed with the scene, the tired Miss Plum exchanging her spot in front of the cameras for the fresh and perky Miss Cheri.

"That's the picture business"

Whenever Dodd asks why some bizarre practice is tolerated in Hollywood, the answer is always "That's the picture business." He keeps pulling against this attitude, but isn't progressing very far. He also goes into something like a half-blind shock whenever Miss Plum hints at the growing affection that she has for him. He wants to keep everything all business, on the other hand he likes Miss Plum and has soon hired her to be his personal secretary.

The stress of trying to save the studio is making Dodd a nervous wreck. Miss Plum tries to force him to leave the studio in the evening with her to enjoy life a little bit and to spend time with her, but Dodd is blind to her obvious affection for him and the almost maternal tasks she has taken up in order to help him survive his immersion into the world of Hollywood.

Preview Disaster

Colossal finally has a finished cut of Sex and Satan, but when they show it to a preview audience, everyone hates the film and mocks the ridiculous story. This movie was supposed to save Colossal from bankruptcy, but now it looks like it will break the studio. Meanwhile, Quintain has found that the scenes in the film which got the best reaction in the preview were scenes which the audience thought were (unintentionally) funny. Thinking that they can re-edit the film into a comedy, he and the film editor begin chopping the film up and thinking of new scenes to insert to completely transform Sex and Satan.

But Koslofski and Miss Cheri have Dodd's ear, and the pair blame Quintain (Bogart) for the mess that Sex and Satan has become, claiming Quintain was drunk during the entire making of the movie. This isn't actually true, but Dodd doesn't know that. Dodd accepts the two witnesses against Quintain (who doesn't even protest the lies against him, not wanting to go against Miss Cheri who he secretly still loves). Quintain is fired, goes to his office to empty his desk, and gets into a bitter argument with a crying Miss Cheri who pleads that she had to double-cross him to keep her career. Bogart immediately leaves the studio to go on a roaring drunk.


Miss Plum and Dodd discuss the disaster of the failed preview of Sex and Satan, and Dodd learns that Quintain had a viable solution to salvage the project and to quite possibly save Colossal in the process. Dodd praises Miss Plum for her loyalty to him, as he was dreading having to humble himself to the Pettypackers, but she angrily corrects him. She isn't doing this to save Dodd, but to save the employees of Colossal who will soon be unemployed and having to humble themselves to the grocer.

Humphrey Bogart, Joan Blondell and Leslie Howard from the 1937 lampoon of the motion picture industry, Stand-In

A 2017 review of The Stand-In
Original Page May 2014

What's Recent