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A Year with Kate: Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)

 Episode 34 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn enters the golden age of her career.

This late in A Year With Kate, I really didn’t think I could be surprised anymore. After 8 months watching 34 movies spread over 3 decades of Katharine Hepburn’s life, I believed that I had a pretty firm grasp on who Kate the Great was and how she performed. I espoused the popular wisdom that Kate was best when she played women similar to herself: strong women, smart women; women rarely beaten and never broken. None of these could prepare me for Mary Tyrone, the morphine addict in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Katharine Hepburn, for the first and possibly last time in her career, played a completely crushed woman, and it’s unlike anything else she ever put to film.

Before you rush out to rent a copy, a warning: Long Day’s Journey Into Night isn’t fun. Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical play is equal parts art and exorcism. He changed names, but otherwise told the story of his family: his alcoholic brother “Jamie” (Jason Robards Jr.); his stingy father “James,” who’d once been a great actor (Ralph Richardson); his morphine-addicted mother “Mary” (Katharine Hepburn); and even “Edmund” (Dean Stockwell), his young, depressed doppelganger who is diagnosed with consumption. Director Sidney Lumet kept O’Neill’s posthumously-published Pulitzer Prize-winner mostly intact. Instead, Lumet focused on bringing it to the screen with visual sophistication through long takes and abrupt extreme closeups. Later adaptations of plays, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, would owe a lot to this film stylistically.

This is the kind of role I’d never expect Katharine Hepburn to be able to play. Mary Tyrone is childish before she succumbs to her addiction and downright infantile after. With no discernible thread of rationality holding Mary’s thoughts together in her haze, each emotion she shares is real but disconnected to the one before it, which requires Kate to switch from memory to accusation to denial to forgetfulness multiple times in a scene. True, the Kate-isms and the Bryn Mawr accent are there, but how to discuss the rest of this performance?

The biggest shock is how willing Kate is to sacrifice her vanity to play Mary. The high collars get lower, she submits herself to unflattering closeups. She even mines her own disorder. In Long Day’s Journey Into Night, perhaps because she could no longer hide her essential tremor--the headshakes often confused for Parkinson’s Disease--Kate incorporates it into Mary’s many physical tics. The more passionate and scared Mary gets, the more her hands flutter and her head shakes. It better humanizes a character who is increasingly losing touch with humanity.

This is also a film that casts Kate’s comedic drunk acting in a new light. When playing drunk previously, not only was Kate charming and sparkly and totally sloshed, she was also more honest, emotional, and closer to her “true self.” But there’s nothing “true” about Mary Tyrone when she abuses morphine. Kate uses her sloshed standbys--unfocused eyes, looseness, and lilting speech--to show Mary slowly regress from shaking, nervous wreck to boneless, petulant woman-child, dragging her wedding dress behind her like a toddler with her blanket. In one jaw-dropping scene, Mary gets high while reminiscing to her maid, and that famous Hepburn posture and diction erode completely. It’s a sobering shock to watch Katharine Hepburn roll on the floor and groan because she’s too far gone to stand.

This film is so completely unlike the rest of Kate’s oeuvre that I’m honestly at a loss. I can’t help wondering what alternate paths might have been taken if Kate had continued to push herself in this direction. Kate was nominated for an Oscar that year (against Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane), but lost to Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker. I call foul to the Academy. Hepburn’s second Oscar wouldn’t come until her next movie, but five painful years and a long goodbye would be required of Kate before the Academy even sealed the envelope. After nine films and two decades, Kate and Spencer would make their last film together.

Who do you think deserved the Oscar for 1962? Kate, Bette, or Anne?

Previous Week: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) - In which Katharine Hepburn is like the Goddess from the Machine.

Next Week: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) - In which Katharine Hepburn wins her second Oscar and loses Spencer Tracy.


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Reader Comments (33)

Bette Forever!!! Just too Iconic in her resume to ignore,her last gr8 gasp at the movies.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteranne

this was ,without a doubt ,one of the best years for female actresses . kate was amazing but i think bette's peformance is more well -known nowadays . kate should have won her oscars for "alice adams " ," the philadelphia story " and the lion in the winter .

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteralexander

anne: Nominatably hammy, sure, but I doubt that winning would have been a choice most could have gotten behind, especially with more than 50 years of hindsight. I'd probably say on a symbolic level, it becomes a heat between Hepburn and Bancroft, with a "hindsight" weighted lean toward Hepburn, so Bancroft can more easily win for The Graduate.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

1962 was actually a great year for actressing. I didn't give the rest of the Best Actress nominees their due diligence. The nominees were:
The Miracle Worker Anne Bancroft
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Bette Davis
Long Day's Journey Into Night Katharine Hepburn
Sweet Bird of Youth Geraldine Page
Days of Wine and Roses Lee Remick

That said, I still think this should have been Kate's Oscar. Bancroft's performance was as complex but not as daring. Davis's was as daring but not as complex. Page and Remick were touching but not as tragic.

I'm with Volvagia. I wish Kate and Anne could swap their winning years, so that Kate would win in 1962 for this and Anne would win in 1967 for The Graduate.</I>

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Anne Marie, I so appreciate you using the actor’s name as Jason Robards, Jr. It is now a forgotten fact that he was the son of actor Jason Robards. Eugene O’Neill, Jamie Tyrone ( and the subsequent alcoholism) was so close an approximation of Robards own life, it is startling.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

This is an amazing performance in a thoroughly downbeat but worthwhile film and the one of her losing performances that I felt should have been a winner. As you said Anne Marie it is so unlike her other work that the challenge she met deserved the prize.

As strong as she is her performance is bolstered by being surrounded by award worthy co-stars none of whom incredibly were Oscar nominated especially considering all won a collective best actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year. Perhaps that's what held them back each could have been considered a lead so each siphoned votes from the other. Nowadays there would be category fraud for at least one if not both the sons being placed in supporting.

If we're rewriting history I'll play! This was a rich year in the Best Actress race with all the woman actually deserving of the win. I think Kate should have won here enabling Anne Bancroft to pick up her deserved award for The Graduate in '67. An even swap! Though as great as Anne was as Mrs. Robinson I think her performance in The Pumpkin Eater is even better.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I have just recently watched this movie and nothing could have prepared me for what Hepburn accomplishes. It is without a doubt one of the best performances ever committed to film. I saw myself going back so many times just so I could see again the changes (as you mentioned) and the moments that caught me off-guard (one of the most shocking being the scene you mentioned when she rolls onto the floor). Truly heartbreaking and real.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Goodbar

Okay, I am a mega-Bette Davis fan, but to me she was the weak link in this category. The nomination should have gone to Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker or Jeanne Moreau in Jules et Jim. And of the five nominees, as great as Hepburn was in this film, I would have given the Oscar to Lee Remick for her heartbreaking performance in Days of Wine and Roses. What an underrated, almost forgotten talent.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Kate by a mile, I think it's her best performance (this or "The Lion in Winter"). The film should have also hogged the Best Supporting Actor category, though I can't pick a favorite of them (but by-golly Dean Stockwell was beautiful back then)
Anne then could justly take away Kate's make-up Oscar five years later; and Bette is out of the running because nobody - ABSOLUTELY NOBODY - out-camps Joan Crawford.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJJ'sDiner

I agree with Paul that Lee Remick's performance in Days was perhaps the best of her short career and Oscar deserving. And Joel, while I agree that Pumpkin Eater has been ignored in Bancroft's filmography, for me, there was never an actress so identified as Bancroft as Annie Sullivan. Her speech about growing up with her brother Jimmie, and the rats and the accurate Irish accent without pity and more self reliance than anger in her voice, the perfect pitch of emotions, deserved the Oscar in a year where each nomination was perhaps the best role each actress ever had on film.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

I remember watching this when I was around 15 years old, and being totally gobsmacked by the master class of acting that is " A Long Days Journey Into Night". I include all the actors in this exceptional film. It was my introduction to Ralph Richardson and Jason Robards.

Hepburn's performance rocked me, precisely because of it's vulnerability. She was magnificently revealing physically and emotionally. Unfortunately the darkness of the script means this film isn't as widely seen by viewers.

Early in Hepburn's career Dorothy Parker made that famous remark, "She runs the gamut of human emotion from A to B" Obviously this performance puts paid to that opinion.

As to who should have won the Oscar? I am ok with Anne Bancroft taking this one.
I admire all the nominees that year, it was a truly outstanding crop.
Hepburn went on to win twice more, and I happen to like the fact that Bancroft won her Oscar for a lead role instead of a supporting turn in "The Graduate".
Things evened out nicely.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I agreed w many coments, 1962 was a magnififent year for the actress! The 5 nominees were really top of the bumper crop & being nom that TOUGH year was already a win by itself.

Much as I like Betta, her hi camp performance in Baby Jane was unfortunately indeed the weakest link this this category. IMO, Joan was more subtle and came off better

Lee Remick indeed gave the most memorable performance of her career, and although it was touching and poignant, the revelation o Wine & Roses is actually Jack Lemmon; cast agst type here. (The best actor race was also one of the tightest in 1962!!)

& much as I admire Kate & the cast, LDJiN is a very long & painful film to watch. Its like watchin yo mother or someone dear slowly descending into madness and there's notink u can do to help her & u can only stand helplessly aside and take in all the madness. Kate was mighty proud o her performance (as Anne Marie mentioned, she really pulled off something u never know she could) and for the 1st time, she actually campaigned for a best actress nom. But when she did get nom, she disappeared and became the reclusive Kate again. Had she kept up the momentum, she might just had won

The tight race in 1962 was actually between Anne & Geraldine. both reprising their tony nom performances (Bancroft had already beaten Page at the TONY 2 years earlier). Page was wonderful as the aging movie queen, grasping the last chance at love, but IMO, Bancroft DESERVE the oscar!! no one could prepared me for that raw, real and at times unsympathetic performance. She never played Anne Sullivan as a victim and try to milk our sympathy, rather she played it like a strong, independent woman (hmmm, sounds like sumone here, lol) who just happened to be visually impaired..She totally DESERVES her win & if she had won for The Graduate, that in itself would have been a consolation win (But I agreed giving it to Kate for GWCtD? is LAME!)

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

joel6, I always look for your comments. They are so entertaining and you seem to like movies from all time periods, as I do. I also love Bancroft in The Pumpkin Eater. It's a shame it isn't better known; after all, it's Pinter and it is the third brilliant film in a row for the underrated Jack Clayton (after Room at the Top and The Innocents).

Paul Outlaw, yes to Jeanne Moreau.

I'm surprised, though, that no one is standing up for Page in Sweet Bird of Youth. I think she's insanely good.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commentervladdy

I'm standing up for Geraldine Page. Making a list of my favourite slate of nominees for any category of the Oscars this best Actress line-up was my #1. Each performance for me is a true and terrific gem. I adore Katharine Hepburn more than is healthy and yet it is Geraldine's performance which is my favourite (and probably tops my list of all Best Actress losing nomination). Just sublime work.

But what a lineup of not just great performances and great actresses but FANTASTIC roles for women (and three of them from good plays). Interesting that Geraldine won the Globe and Anne won the BAFTA but those weren't a time of many precursors. I always rationalise that Anne has the edge of the most sympathetic of the five characters. She's going up against addicts and sociopaths. But even though she's my least favourite of the five it's hard to argue too hard against any of the performances. (Also, this loss for Geraldine always makes her eventual win against Anne in 85 so much more random and amusing. Especially when F. Murray Abraham calls Geraldine "the greatest actress in the English Language" or something and Anne scoffs.)

But, back to Kate, I've always seen this as the essential antithesis to Violet. Both women that are somewhat deluded but in starkly different ways. Like Jane Hudson in SUMMERTIME or Alice Adams, Mary Tyrone is proof that Kate is not quite the Cary Grant type she's remembered - using her same (winning) personality in all her turns. None of these ladies is quintessential Kate but she sells them even though it seems impossible that she will. (Also, Dean Stockwell for MVP of the male cast. What an ensemble!)

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

Beside Remick, IMO, Page also gave her most memorable performance in her lustrous movie career with Sweet Bird o Youth. Her win for Trip to Boutiful was sadly a make up for the 7 previous snubs.

Its interesting to note the "battle" between Bancroft & Page (Bancroft won the TONY, BAFTA & Oscar over Page for The Miracle Worker, while Page beat Bancroft to the Golden Globe for Sweet Bird), it's bittersweet & ironic to note that not only Page "avenged" her loss when she won in 1985, but also that Bancroft's nominated part as the Mother Superior in Agnes of God, was originated on broadway by Page, but she was passed on for this role when the movie was cast.

Back to Kate, LDJiN was definitely one o the highlights of her long career. Undeniably one of her top 5 performances! Its a shame she only won at the Cannes (& it was a tie). Her Mary Tyrone was a model template for many future actresses when they took on this role. I alws wondered if Vanessa Redgrave's TONY winning performance was in parts inspired by Kate's, as I did not have the good fortune to watch it on Broadway

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

What?!!! Why are you excluding Geraldine Page and Lee Remick? They're outstanding!

I can't decide. In odd years I vote for Geraldine and the others for Anne.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

My favorite from this ridiculous lineup

The Miracle Worker Anne Bancroft
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Bette Davis
Long Day's Journey Into Night Katharine Hepburn
Sweet Bird of Youth Geraldine Page
Days of Wine and Roses Lee Remick

is Geraldine Page but I'll admit the only one i haven't seen from this roster is Kate's and I do feel bad about that. I was going to watch it this week for this. where does the time go?

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

It's easy to luxuriate in this heavenly lineup, probably the tops ever for Best Actress. I still haven't seen LDJIN, and that must be rectified. But I have to go with Anne for the win, who takes a dusty old archetype and daringly and completely reworks it inside out. Bette would be a close second, as she pulls off a miracle. And I have such a soft spot for Lee Remick's performance, which is heartbreaking and completely real--"The world looks so dirty to me when I'm not drinking." Damn.

Also, I'd give Anne a second Oscar for The Graduate. Some of the greatest acting ever put to film.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Love the diversity of opinion! I'm still standing by my vote for Kate to win, but I definitely need to brush up on my Lee Remick and Geraldine Page.

Maybe we should have a 1962 Best Actress Smackdown-of-sorts so we can all vote with the five leading ladies fresh in our minds. (Hint hint Nathaniel hint)

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Gosh. How can you choose? So many great performances. FWIW, I think Kate's best performance was in Love Among the Ruins with Olivier. Yeah, it was just a TV movie, but it is so amazing. And she's amazing in it.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

Claran: I've always loved Vanessa winning a Tony for this role knowing how fond of her Kate reportedly was. I've often found their temperament as performers to be similar.

Also, CharlieG: I LOVE you making a shout for LOVE AMONG THE RUINS which is a forgotten TV movie that I adore. Look at that talent, Olivier, Hepburn and Cukor all taking Emmy awards for their work, too. I'm so curious to see what Anne Marie says of it when we reach it.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

Andrew K & CharlieG - We'll get to Love Among The Ruins on October 8th, so please feel free to watch it between now and then. I've never seen it, but I've read a great deal about it, so I'm looking forward to finally watching Kate & Larry together!

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

I haven't chimed in yet because, gulp, I have never seen this movie. I've always been saving it for a long rainy day by myself with several hours to kill. I guess I just haven't found the time yet, BUT sometimes it's delicious to know that there is something out there that is guaranteed to bring enjoyment (of the performance, maybe not the depressing film itself).

I always think of 1977 as the ne plus ultra of Best Actress nominations, but maybe 1962 can top it. I mean you have THE two Hollywood movie actresses going opposite each other for, what, the third or fourth time and arguably they are both topping themselves and their storied youth?

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Love this period in Kate's career! She would have had my vote over Bancroft and Davis, but I haven't seen the other two.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I love love love LOVE Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan, and am so glad she won the Oscar for it. But Jesus...if Oscar gave another tie, this would've been the year and performance. The last monologue, as Hepburn/Mary rambles on about her youth, and the camera pulls back back back to show the ruined family, sitting at the table surrounded by darkness--and then the camera jump cuts to an excruciating close-up of Hepburn, once more lost in the fog, searching for her point as she remembers she married James Tyrone..."And then...for a time...I was happy." Oh my God.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDback

As great as 1962's Best Actress lineup was, I give the edge to 1950, because in addition to the legendary performances by the other nominees what Davis acheives in All About Eve is (in my opinion) far superior to her work in Baby Jane. 1940 is not far behind, because of the leading ladies of The Letter (brilliant Davis again),The Philadelphia Story (my favorite Kate), Rebecca, Our Town and Ginger Rogers (the winner), the Sandra Bullock of her day--some would have nominated Roz Russell instead, just as they would have picked Tilda Swinton in 2009. But YMMV of course.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

As Anne Marie already knows, I was so flabbergasted by this performance that I insisted on "recreating" it for my high school drama class, dragged wedding dress and all. I'm sure I was remarkable.

I think Hepburn is amazingly good in this. Just stupendous. As is everyone in that miraculous Oscar category, though she easily gets my vote. The only disappointment is that she did sort of push herself further in this direction, tackling huge roles in prestigious dramatic works, and never once did it pan out nearly so well: The Trojan Women, A Delicate Balance, etc. Bu we'll get to those soon enough!!

August 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Nick, I was thinking about our conversation while I watched LDJIN a second time. I absolutely understand your adoration of it and subsequent re-enactment. I probably would have tried the same. By the way, please tell me that somewhere out there is photo evidence of your Mary Tyrone performance.

August 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Dave, 1977 has always been one of my top Best Actress lineups as well. I also love 1939 and 1982.

August 22, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Side note: Spencer Trace was offered the role of James Tyrone, but turned it down as this was a v small budget production (they din meet his asking price) & he felt the material too taxing on his deterioting health. He accepted a madcap comedy (Its a Mad Mad Mad World) instead.

Richardson, Robards & Stockwell were all in top form too, pity only Kate was singled out for a nom.
As a matter of fact, LDJiN only received ONE nom. (so much for an indie small production huh)

August 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Anne Marie, I love this series--- Kate is one of my favourite actors. There's a bit on her performance in this film in Sidney Lumet's book Making Movies where he mentions her cockiness followed by her call for "Help!" after three days of rehearsal. It's about a page and it's his POV, but I enjoyed hearing from the director about how she worked with him. If you haven't read the book as a whole, it's terrific.

August 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDanny Hall

I just finished watching LDJiN and thought it to be one of the best character studies ever made...didn't realize it was based on Eugene O'Neill's own life...how very brave, sensitive and thoughtful, putting his own personal journey of life's trials and tribulations out for all to see. It surely makes one think of our own journey thru life and our own dark secrets and demons because we all have them, but they are all part of the delicate and interwoven fabrics that make us who we are. It is unfortunate that they ALL didn't receive the nomination and subsequent Oscar for their performances...Bravi!!! Does anyone know if Criterion has put it out on DVD and if they haven't, they should...extremely worthy of a Criterion publication...plan on watching it several more times to be able to really study each character's nuances such as the dragging of the wedding dress, ad one post referenced the "child dragging its blankie" ever so loyally behind them. Merry Christmas to everyone and may you be blessed by God's love...

December 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrenda

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