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Archive for the ‘Katharine Hepburn’ Category

Sylvia Scarlett

16 Jul

Sylvia Scarlett – directed by George Cukor. Grifter Romance. Unruly disguises rule. 90 minutes Black and White 1935.

★★★★★

I like all grifter dramas, stories about people gulling other people out of their eyeteeth. Here Cary Grant is the principal con-man, and of course he is first-class at it, and has a lot of fun bringing his good old English carnival shill energy into it.

He is aided and abetted by the great Joe August who filmed it and by the brilliant trick-writer John Collier who was one of the three adapters of Compton MacKenzie’s novel, and it runs well as we hook into Edmund Gwenn and his daughter disguised as his son, as escapees from consequences in France to the luckier shores of England where they fall under the tricky Grant and the dubious spell of a musical hall chanteuse sexpot Dennie Moore. To earn a quick buck they become travelling vaudevillians. Then Brian Aherne turns up to derail the scams by becoming the object of the love interest of Katharine Hepburn, who up until this time is disguised as a boy. Her competition with Aherne is played by The Countess Natalia Pavlovna Von Hohenfelsen (whose biography would make your hair curl or uncurl, depending.)

Well!!! – as Jack Benny so eloquently put it.

The conglomeration travels on unexpected tracks at the start, and this is welcome – but, when romance insists on elbowing in, the movie looses it fascination, energy, imagination, and fun, and turns routine.

What is not routine is Katharine Hepburn as a hobbledehoy! For as a boy she is quite different than what she appears to be as a girl. As a boy she is quite convincing. As a girl she is quite unconvincing. As a boy she is swift, daring, direct, and true. And you really believe she is a boy. As a girl she is arch, sentimental, coy, extravagant, and meretriciously phony. You never believe in her at all. As a boy uninterested in romance, you swallow her whole. As a girl making goo-goo eyes she is a wretched fraud.

So when is she acting?

And when is she just playacting?

And why?

As a boy, Sylvester Scarlett, she delivers one of the greatest acting performances ever laid down on screen.

As a girl, Sylvia Scarlett, she gives one of the worst.

Don’t miss it. Hepburn was one of the great personalities of The Twentieth Century and one of the great things. The movie has a bunch of rewards and the biggest one is Hepburn acting more naturally as a male than any other male in the movie.

 

Undercurrent

13 Jul

Undercurrent –­– directed by Vincente Minnelli. Turgid Melodrama. A confirmed spinster marries a handsome tycoon and finds things about him no one would want to find. 116 minutes Black and White 1946.

★★

Does the idea of Katharine Hepburn becoming the lover of Robert Mitchum seem seemly to you? Well, that’s what happens here.

Actually one must ask whether the idea of Katharine Hepburn becoming the lover of anyone seems natural. She played many spinster roles and in what you get, for the most part and with one exception, Woman Of The Year, you never sense her as a sexually attracted woman.

This is not to say she is not sexually attractive. Men are attracted to her. But what attraction is in her for any sex at all is bodied forth here in her preposterous performance opposite Robert Taylor, who certain knew his way around sex.

It’s a fascinating performance. She is moment by moment touching and completely phony, coy and actually frightened, arch and straightforwardly honest. As an actress she does not seem to have any sense at all of when she is being just terrible, just false, just fabricated, just artificial, and when she is true blue.

She is an actress first of all devoted to The Noble. And it is also probably true that she had no real attraction to males – or let us say, felt it so rarely that she could not summon it at will. So what we get is an actress pretending to love. And her means to that are to woe the audience into sympathizing with her. And the means to that are to make her characters gauche and gawky and full of lollypop sentiment and glassy-eyed idealism. So, being devoted to The Noble, she is well within her ambition to make sexual attraction seem adolescent – or her idea of adolescent – for no adolescent would carry on with such Golly-Gee gyrations and such brutal bashfulness. You cannot believe her for a minute. She is just play-acting.

She is an actress who produced herself. All actors do that. They make something up in the shower, and that is what you get. It is a true strand of their nature. But Hepburn wants something more; she wants to be fascinating to those who watch what she does, and everything she does is subordinated to that questionable ambition. Noble and Fascinating.

No wonder she was box office poison. She is so because as a show-off she is irritating.

But she is also, the next second, brilliant, unusual, and lovable. Such a curious flower not suitable for every occasion, our Kate. Our Kate with the blinders on.

 

 

Pat and Mike

26 Jul

Pat and Mike – directed by George Cukor. Comedy. A third rate sports promoter takes on a multitalented female athlete, who has a jinx. 95 minutes Black and White 1952.

★★★★

Two things must be remembered about Katharine Hepburn. The first is that she is the type for the personality actress. The second is that, as Mildred Dunnock said of her, her talent grew with time. Indeed, she is the only film actress of her era of whom this can be said. It is not just that she was a careerist par excellence, or that she became an American institution and went on acting into her eighties; it was also that she became interested in developing her gift; so that she took on the great classical roles, Hecuba in Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Desdemona in Othello, Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Mad Woman of Chaillot, Shaw’s The Millionairess, and Albee’s A Delicate Balance. No other film actress of her era entered or even touched upon the classical drama. Bette Davis performed The Night Of The Iguana badly, but that was it. Hepburn performed The Glass Menagerie badly but she also performed Suddenly Last Summer superbly. She made relatively few movies considering her longevity, for, unlike all the other female film stars, she never left the live theatre. Just before making this picture, she launched into her series of Shakespeare comedies with the longest female role in the cannon, Rosalind in As You Like It. In it she showed off her terrific legs and they are well on view here as she plays a twin-threat athlete. Hepburn had been a champion golfer as a teenager and took up tennis when she came to Hollywood. She was a natural athlete and physically fearless. She breezes across the campus with a change of clothes in her hands and leaps across the back of her boyfriend’s convertible and ducks down to change her duds — remarkable! But she is deeply co-dependent to this boyfriend, who jinxes her whenever he appears at her competitions, although one senses it was part of her nature, a substitute for sex, in which she was not interested. So she weeps and it plays as self-pity, and is an error she makes throughout her career. When she is supposed to fall in love with a man, a very entertaining Spencer Tracy in this case, she gets gooey, another error. Or she gets dreamy, as Alice Adams. She is not only repellent, but worse, she is unconvincing. Their screen duets were, except for the first, Woman Of The Year, not based on sex. In fact sex was probably not an important ingredient in their relations off-screen either. Their chemistry is the chemistry of perfect human dove-tailing. And you find it, not in their romantic scenes but in their playing. In actual life they spent relatively little time together. She was off on her career, coming back to him for occasional rescue operations, but spending most of her time on the East coast. (She never had a Hollywood home.) But she is a great personality actress. She had a peculiar voice and accent and a face like none other. She had a strong sense of delivery and physical ease and authority. She had too many identifiable traits for her ever to be called a character actress, but there is nothing wrong with that. She had an honesty and forthrightness that was admirable and appealing. She could level with you like no one else. She was the top flight high comedienne of film of her era. She was too particular and too peculiar to be able to submerge herself into parts that required strong disguise, accents, or traits not her own, as evidenced in Dragon Seed. But she was a great and unique energy, with a talent that she sought to develop all her life. She never sought to play heavies or villainesses. She chose roles with noble outcomes. She was aware of her public in terms of what she was willing to bring to them, and not bring to them, and the public respected her for it. It is idle to complain that she is only playing herself. It would be more correct to say that she is playing herselves. She was not a great actress at all, but in acting she was great many times and many times over. She was always what she set out to become, fascinating. She was a great Thing. She was the only one who lasted.

 

 

Adam’s Rib

20 Jul

Adam’s Rib – directed by George Cukor. Comedy. Married lawyers on opposite sides of an attempted murder case. 101 minutes Black and White 1949.

★★★★

It feels as though ten years go by between this and The State Of The Union, whereas it was only 10 months. Once again Tracy and Hepburn are married, and once again Sydney Guilaroff has done Hepburn’s hair to perfectly suit her profession. But she is badly costumed once again by Walter Plunkett, who as in Sea Of Grass, can’t seem to get Hepburn right, and her hats are awful. But that’s not the trouble. The story is just fine – Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin wrote it. It’s the execution that’s flat. Mind you, the film was a top money-maker, but if you compare it to The State Of The Union what’s clear as a bell is that Frank Capra is a lot of fun as a director and George Cukor is not much fun at all. So it is the story that carries the film, rather than the way it is told, and it is certain set pieces in the script – the scene with the hat in the middle of the bedroom on a chair, while each of them is off camera getting dressed and talking, a Lubitsch touch and a nice one. Hope Emerson picking up Tracy and waving him about like an American flag is hard to swallow and not really funny since it demeans the character. Cukor’s sense of pace is lax: the country scene on the home movies goes on too long. And David Wayne as the swain next door is a pain in the neck; that he plays the character for all it’s worth only exposes its worth. A comic force in the structure carries the picture, rather than the acting, which is convincing but wanting in eccentricity. This is particularly true of Hepburn, whose movement lacks limberness. I seem to be crabbing about a film which has its talent to please. It brings to the screen Judy Holliday in her first film role, but she was a one-note actress, the note being a whine. Tom Ewell is an unlikely bit of casting as a two-timing wife-beater, but he works out very well indeed, as does the great Jean Hagen, as his doxy. But I still have to crab. Cukor has no sense of crowd scenes, no energy for court-room drama, which is what this film is. His court scenes feel as though he were filming a postcard. What he is good at is two-scenes, and those between Tracy and Hepburn are pretty good, while the scene between Hepburn and Holliday is absolutely terrific – not because of Holliday but because of the focus Hepburn bestows on her. Cukor likes two-scenes to run long, which is one of their virtues, but he has no sense of pacing them with other sorts of scenes; although the script-writers give them to him, he doesn’t seem to know how to handle them differently or imaginatively. Of course, he became Hepburn’s house director; she did many films with him – perhaps because she fascinated him, perhaps because she guaranteed work, perhaps because he let her do as she pleased.

 

The State Of The Union

18 Jul

The State Of The Union – directed by Frank Capra. Political Drama. A self-made millionaire runs for president and ruins himself morally. 124 minutes Black and White 1948.

★★★★

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. She was a remarkable personality. He was an unremarkable one. She was a thoroughbred racing down the track with the blinders on. He was a garden variety Joe shambling along taking it all in. She was quick thinking and controlling. He was withdrawn and deliberating. Energetically they made a perfect couple because they could see into one another and you could see them do it and you could see that they didn’t mind being seen doing it. Theirs is a transparent cocktail. So a film with them presents, before one looks at it, the promise of a union that puts pat to one of the great American hatreds, snobbism. She was upper class, he was lower. They are equal opposite parts, and there is a democracy to them as a given. Knowing they are together in a film means we are to be presented with that common vision of fairness which is at the heart of the American character and vitality. Their popularity is the popularity of the audience themselves. The homogeneity of the heterodox, they are the melting pot itself. They are one from many. Claudette Colbert was slated to play the wife here as she was also slated to play Margo Channing in All About Eve, and, while she is a marvelous film actor, it is impossible to imagine these parts being played by anyone but the actors who did play them. Katharine Hepburn is particularly suited to this part if you consider her from the point of the enneagram, for her point is One, the one who is born right, and Hepburn’s is a woman who never veers from her sense of what is right, This sense drives the entire plot of the film, and without it the film would lack the foundation it possesses. Hepburn’s playing is superb – light, quick, agile, responsive, and natural. She is right without being righteous. She is most profound when funny, as Ones are, which makes her being right digestible, and she is most untrue when emotional which Ones also are, which makes her weeping scenes merely lachrymose. Hepburn seems to think that weeping is the Great Thing That Acting Requires, but when Hepburn tears up, her character goes out the window. Otherwise everything she does is on the money, down to the smallest detail. Just beware the trembling lip, folks. When she starts getting noble, head for the exits. Spenser Tracy, who plays the husband two-timing her, commands his part like a skipper; virtually every detail is believable. He’s funny and true, convinced and convincing, and it’s largely his film. The script from a Broadway success, feels jammed with repartee and wisecracks, overwritten and forced. Capra is a great director of crowd mayhem, but everybody yells a lot and delivers noble orations. It’s a bit thick, with a thickness made viscous by Victor Young’s taffy score. Angela Lansbury is but 22 when she plays the hardheaded, lascivious newspaper magnate who is having an affaire with Tracy and who instruments his presidential bid. The maturity of her bearing is almost sufficient, but she is helped by her costumes by Irene, and particularly by her hairdos by Sydney Guilaroff, who also does Hepburn’s hair and does it brilliantly, for this is not one of Hepburn’s slacks roles. Adolphe Menjou plays the campaign manager tellingly and Van Johnson, in one of his great sardonic roles, plays the press agent. Capra made few films after the war, for after the war America was no longer corn-fed. But if you like the writing of Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men, The Newsroom, The Social Network), as I do, you will be very happy watching The State Of The Union.

 

 

Sea Of Grass

21 May

Sea Of Grass — directed by Elia Kazan. Western. A husband and wife wrangle and separate because he is more devoted to the great plains than to her. 123 minutes Black and White 1947.

★★★

Conrad Richter, whose works I read at the time because of this movie is not much read any more, I’m afraid. His take on this old walrus material of the settlers vs. the cattlemen is a beautifully written, sub-heroic, that is to say, a personal non-formula version of the material and the characters. It rustles like the grass itself. Alas, the only rustling done in this movie is the theft of the book as vehicle for its two stars, Tracy and Hepburn. For, instead of a location shooting, the backlot at MGM is the prairie, and the whole venture looks like the settings for a musical in which you might expect a chorus of girls led by Jane Powell to leap over the fence in poke bonnets and pinafores, singing thrillingly. Indeed, the story might make a good musical, but a good western it does not make. I didn’t think this way at the time I saw it, aged thirteen. I was taken by compassion for the infidelity of the wife, and the romance at stake in that deed and its consequences. Kazan was earning his chaps in Hollywood, for this was his second film, but the entire production was already manufactured for him by the time he arrived on the lot. Katherine Hepburn’s costumes by Plunkett are multitudinous and inexplicably fancy for the setting. She looks like she had never lived in any one of them before the particular scene. Sydney Guilaroff does her hair beautifully, but he also must have lived on the ranch. Harry Stradling’s camera registers the impeccable dust impeccably. Kazan’s direction is flaccid, for he admits he gave up after the first day. He liked them, mind you, but he felt Hepburn and Tracy and Melvin Douglas, as The Other Man, were miscast, and I suppose they are. Here’s what, in various places, he says about Spencer Tracy as the cattle baron: “He looked like a comfortable Irish burgher in the mercantile trade. He wasn’t an outdoorsman in any sense of the word. He wasn’t a man who liked to leave Beverly Hills and the comfort of his home. His shoes looked like they had just been shined. I never could get him to stretch himself. Do you know Irishmen? They have this great inertia. Indifference. A man can have a way of making himself unapproachable. He’s a male and not to be tampered with. The man was absolutely commanding when he acted on a simple level that he understood. Where the confrontation was direct, Tracy was tremendous. When the thing was right for him, he was absolutely believable.” As to Hepburn: “She’d committed herself to a particular tradition of acting. Personally she was a marvelous woman, but she aspired to be like Katherine Cornell. Stars of that ilk had a duty to their audience to uphold, a certain image of glamour, heroism, and bravery. A star never did anything wrong. Essentially it’s the tradition of the 19th Century, carried over, milked down, and transposed.” (Kazan was a Virgo). By this time their off-screen relationship was like an old shoe. We sense no fragmentation, no newly weds getting-used-to, no sexual attraction. We sense they are technically collusive with one another. Individually she is highly reflexive, he weighty. They are good in some scenes, off-base in others. Better in comedy than drama. Harry Carey, Edgar Buchanan, Russell Hicks give fine support. Phyllis Thaxter plays the daughter, and her technique is to play an emotion, rather than a moment, so the voice is pitched to a twinkle when she is supposed to be endearing, or a constant yearning when that is the tone targeted. The film comes alive only in the third act when Robert Walker appears as the rapscallion son. It’s a super part, well written, and played with a swift indifference to the conventions of the role. Suddenly the entire screen comes alive with the juice of an actor’s imagination. Sea Of Grass is worth seeing because of him.

 

Without Love

15 May

Without Love — directed by Harold Bucquet. Romantic Drama. An inventor looking for a place to work on an important WW II oxygen mask marries his landlady because neither of them are in love with one another. 111 minutes Black and White 1945.

★★★★

“Perfectly believable as an actor, “Elia Kazan said of him, “completely unbelievable in the scene.” So the time has come to call into question, what sort of an actor Spencer Tracy was and just how good was he.  Without Love is a good context to raise these questions in, and to raise the matter of whether he was really a better actor when he was not acting with Katharine Hepburn. This last is hard to tell, because she exerts a fascination of face, voice, and bearing that is as freakishly special as his is commonplace. Which means she draws focus whenever the two are on the screen together. So you don’t look at him. If you had to answer just What Is He you could say Just an ordinary American Joe, but if you asked the question, What Is She, you’d have to venture lots of answers. An actress and being of any depth would not be among them. And because she is not, she does not offer an occasion for depth in Tracy. He simply follows her suit, plays to her hand, defers to her gifts and lack of gifts, perhaps so as not to show them up and certainly also to level out with her into a balance of style and treatment of the material they shared. Here he plays a man who has been betrayed by a frightening floozy and has sworn off women. But do you ever feel his feelings have been hurt by this? Do you ever feel he is carrying around a wound? Do you ever feel what his relations to women might be, that he fears for himself in involving himself with one? No. You don’t. If he had supplied such a subtext, would that have defied the tone of Philip Barry’s play? What directs his choice to play the piece on the level he plays it – and he has a good many solo scenes particularly at the beginning? Does his swearing off women, off love, really ever cause him to wrangle inside himself, does it cause an interesting difficulty? Nope. He plays the story well he does not play the drama well. Perhaps he considered it beneath him. Was he just lazy? He is charming, fun, convincing, but he has nothing at stake. Katharine Hepburn made three movies of Philip Barry plays, all three of which she had already played in on Broadway. This was the last. Her experience with Without Love was an unhappy one, although it had a run. We find her good in some scenes, and not so hot in others. That she wears polka dot culottes is sometimes more interesting than her acting itself. And she a tendency to tremble that fine chin of hers and to confuse tears with depth of feeling, a habit that remained with her all her life. But she does a great monotone monologue in the proposal scene, and whenever she must be in command she is admirable. More than Tracy, she needs a good director and she does not have one. Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn, support them, and  Felix Bressart is all an actor should be in the role of Tracy’s mentor. Without Love is a curious story for the two of them to engage in, for their relations were non-sexual by this time, and they remained without love for the rest of their intermittent lives together. Is this Film As Unconscious Memoir? This is the third of their pictures. After the first and best of them, Woman Of The Year, they were never sexual again on screen and, in eight more films, never kissed once

 

 

Keeper Of The Flame

10 May

Keeper Of The Flame – directed by George Cukor. WW II Melodrama. A gigantic American hero dies and a foreign correspondent tries to uncover the truth about him through questioning his wife.

★★★

To say George Cukor was a so-so director is not to stretch the bounds of praise. He had no sense of narrative proportion. He so loved the beauty and truth of actresses that he lumbered his films with scenes lengthened to glamorize them. For he loved women. What he did not love was men and women. He had no sense of the sexual energy between them, and you will find that most of his films are not about mating. This one certainly is not. So, as a follow-up of Woman Of The Year, by a director who certainly loved men and women, George Stevens, it is a baffling folly. However, in glamorizing Katharine Hepburn it is a triumph – one she carries admirably. With her carved visage, slim figure, and large hands, she is a goddess, not in the sense of a deity but in the sense of something carved out of stone. Indeed she enters the film draped by Adrian, in white like sculpture. It is one of the great opening scenes for an actress ever shot. And that is because the great William Daniels is filming it, lighting it, and choosing the floor-up angle to exalt it. The creator of Garbo in silents and sound, he is a photographer who could make every movie he shot look like a concerto. You’re not consciously aware of it, but each scene in the picture becomes alive and important because he is filming it to make it look like a Greek Tragedy. Which Greek Tragedy? The one in which, as E.B. Browning once said, Cassandra smells the slaughter in the bathroom. It is pointless to expatiate now how this picture could be improved (only to warn the viewer parenthetically that the idea of a fascist threat inside America during WW II was hooey). What one can say is that Hepburn plays all her scenes quietly, her cheeks held still, her sometimes grating volatility left outside the door. She exudes a convincing, mysterious and necessary calm. Excellent is what she is. And for that we can credit Cukor. Spencer Tracy plays the world-famous reporter, her part in Woman Of The Year, and again he is up against Hepburn’s devotion to a cause greater than anything that could lie between them. As in Woman Of The Year with Dan Tobin, she is almost under the control of her assistant Richard Whorf. Both men are played as fruits, which confuses their treachery with their sexual orientation, a combination which is truthful to neither. Are we supposed to hate fruits because they are treacherous or hate traitors because they are fruits? You see the absurdity of the matter. A strong supporting cast is put to abuse; Frank Craven as the doctor, Stephen McNally as the investigative journalist, Margaret Wycherly as the balmy mother of the great man, Howard Da Silva as the doorkeeper whom he saved and who hates him, Percy Kilbride as the smug yokel, Forrest Tucker as the great big jock, Donald Meek as the meek little hotel manager, and Audrey Christie as the newspaper dame whose sexual sallies tell us Tracy is not interested in women of any kind at all. During production, Hepburn and Donald Ogden Stewart the adapter fought badly over this story’s treatment and she won. Too bad. She fancied herself as a writer, but if you read her autobiography, you can see she was not one at all. As with Summertime and other ventures, her interference in the area of story are almost always wrong. It comes out of her desire to control, also known as, wanting to make things better, but in her case it springs from a fear at no place evident in this fine performance, which ends with one of the longest monologs ever to be given to the temptation of an actress to venture out upon. As she emerges from the shadows to do it, Tracy retreats into them. And William Daniels, quite right, has his way.

 

Woman Of The Year

09 May

Woman Of The Year – directed by George Stevens. Romantic Comedy. A vibrant internationally renown newspaper female reporter and a writer on the sport page fall in love and sort it out. 114 minutes Black and White 1942.

★★★★★

Katharine Hepburn met Spencer Tracy making this comic masterpiece, the first and best of their films together. Why best? Because she is so sexy, never more so in any subsequent film with him or with anyone else, and he is in turn and at the same time is emotionally smart about her to protect his heart-on for her. They fall in love at first sight, in their editor’s office, and her face is something to behold as she grasps fully the sexual and romantic power she feels for him and wields over him. He stands back and is amazed by her sexiness, youth, and zest. He follows her from the office, she turns a corner and ambushes him on the stairs and seduces him. Tess Harding is her greatest performances. She and I corresponded briefly about this picture, which I saw when it came out and I was eight, for I understood immediately that this is the sort of marriage I would want for myself – a marriage in which the woman brought something vital from the outside into it from her professional life. This film is the greatest feminist tract ever filmed, the woman raised to the heights of competence, power, wit, kindness, sexuality, admirability, and self-awareness – and the male loving her for all of it. Sydney Guilaroff designed a perfect, sexy shoulder-length hairdo for her that does a lot for her character. That, in the press of her professional responsibilities, she falls short as a wife and mother gives us the foundation of a story which, in fact, ends stupidly. They had no ending when they started making it, and Stevens wrote an ending which proves her to be incompetent at homemaking, in which she is outwitted by three breakfast gadgets. It is a scene out of Stevens’ Laurel and Hardy days; it is a scene out of silent film, a scene based on gags. It is awful for it is a scene disconsonant with the character of Hepburn, who would have risen to the situation of the waffle iron just as she does when she catches the fourth piece of toast flying into the air. The fact is, yeast does not operate that way, toasters do not rocket launch toast, and coffee pots don’t percolate like that – and we already know from the scene in the baseball park that Hepburn was game for anything, and could have learned household chores as fast as she learned and rejoiced in, before her first game was over, the ground rules of a sport she had never witnessed before in her life. The finale is false, for the film is verbal, and their reconciliation needs to be verbal also, not a capitulation on her part, no matter how it is worked out in action. Setting this episode aside, the film depicts the triumph of the female at her best, her most characteristic and complete. She is never the victim, never the little housewife, never the doormat. And Tracy does not want her to be. He loves her even when she is brilliant and says so, and so do I, and so did I when twenty years later I married just such an accomplished female.

 

Alice Adams

31 Mar

Alice Adams — directed by George Stevens. Family Drama. A young woman’s mother strives to upgrade her daughter’s social status. 99 minutes Black and White 1935.

★★★★★

Katherine Hepburn was 27 when she made this, and she went on starring in movies until she was 87, and you can understand why. She is an actress without repose. Even when acting repose she is actively doing it. Mind you, she has a very good script here and a first-class director, George Stevens, whose breakthrough film this was. Hepburn had played a series of high-strung, mettlesome, sophisticated girls, but here she plays an ordinary small town girl who wants to better herself. Alice Adams is a girl who loves her crude working class father, but takes after her mother who strives. She puts on airs, tells lies, and hides things to conceal her drab family background. The only result is that she is snubbed and picked on by the town’s worthies; she is not invited to other girls’ soigné parties, and wears handmade organdy when she is, and is a wallflower there. Why should we care about this pushy phony? It’s because in our lives when we were young we all wanted to be someone else, someone better, someone more popular. And because Alice is also kind and tactful, and, when home, direct and earnest, and because Hepburn herself is those things. So, well though we might wonder how tall, dark, handsome, Fred MacMurray, broad of shoulder, with wads of money, magnificent in tails, can stand this pushy dame with her coyness and strained lyricism and little half-laugh, it is because we see through her to Hepburn’s quality and harpsichord sensitivity to the truth about love. Booth Tarkington wrote the novel, and it’s a good one. The director and actress fought for the novel’s ending in which Alice has to go out and drudge as a secretary, but the studio forced this one on them, so it ends with a lecture. Except for Fred Stone as the father who sustains a whine of self-pity that is pitiless, the film is well cast and acted, especially with Ann Shoemaker as the mother, and Frank Albertson as the crude and rightly annoyed brother. Miss Hattie McDaniels is excruciatingly funny as a hired maid at a family dinner meant to impress McMurray, and she is but one example of Stevens’ quiet comic sense which infiltrates and supports many scenes: the look on the face of humanity is what Stevens is a master director of: a waiter asked to play a love song for the fifth time running.  As well as a sense of American mise-en-scene: you really feel you are walking down a small town street and not a back lot. As well as a stunning grasp of lighting, set to fit a mood: Alice coming back into the unlit shabby foyer from that wretched ball. As well as a revulsion to reaction shots in lieu of duets and closeups which enter the spirits of those explored: Hepburn and MacMurray’s kiss. How can Stevens like Hepburn so? For the same reason we do. Hepburn can create all that is false , affected, and pretentious about Alice, but she can also reveal how her feelings are hurt by the failure of her own folly, and how she is touchingly trapped in a cycle of groundless hope. Stevens’ strongest suit as a director was, better than any other director of his time, the creation of Americana: longing set against its conflicting background. The places we see are the places we knew. And the things hoped for are the hopes we hoped. This will eventually reach its fruition in his masterwork, A Place In The Sun. But here, for the first time, a master gathers his powers together.

 

 

Stage Door

08 Mar

Stage Door — Directed by Gregory La Cava —  Comedy Melodrama. A boardinghouse for aspiring actresses is the poison bowl where an ambitious amateur and her hardbitten roommate machinate for success on The Great White Way. 92 minutes Black and White 1937.

* * * * *

If you like 30s movies with Fast Talkin’ Dames, this will make your eyeballs pop! Everyone is completely at home with the (proleptic of Altman) overlapping dialogue by Edna Ferber and George F. Kaufman who wrote Dinner at 8 and You Can’t Take It With You and this. A nifty gab-fest by world class reparteuses — Eve Arden, Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn, Ann Miller (ae 14), and Lucille Ball (who discovered her, ae 13). Hepburn’s hold on her public is never plainer than here, for she talks with an Hartford high society twang but she always levels with you. Her directness and her common sense are a passport in any country and any society. And Roger’s drunk scene is brilliantly played (and written) revealing that Jean, the lady with the snappy tongue, is a lot more ignorant of the ways of the world than she would have us believe. The ladies are catty, of course; indeed Eve Arden actually wears a live cat around her neck! The extras include a Lux Radio Broadcast with Rogers in her old part, Eve Arden in a different part, and Roz Russell in Hepburn’s part. Talk about collection of distinctive voices!  Talk about talk! Choice!

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