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Entries in Katharine Hepburn (37)

Wednesday
Apr162014

A Year with Kate: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Episode 16 of 52 as Anne Marie screens all of Katharine Hepburn's films in chronological order.

In which Katharine Hepburn wins it all back and then some.

For Classic Hollywood stars whose images so often transcended or eclipsed the films they appeared in, there often emerges one film that becomes image-defining. This film has the power to stretch forward and back in time, coloring biographical details and even other performances by that actor. It’s the film that will show up in retrospectives and Turner Classic Movies montages, be quoted by fans and impersonators. For Bette Davis, it’s All About Eve. For Gloria Swanson, it’s Sunset Boulevard. For Katharine Hepburn, it’s The Philadelphia Story.

What sets Kate and The Philadelphia Story apart is how deliberately this star-defining was done. Davis was a last-minute replacement for Claudette Colbert, and Swanson was on a list of Pre-Code potentials that included Mae West. But from the beginning, nobody but Kate was Tracy Lord. The part was written for her by Philip Barry, purchased for her by Howard Hughes, and performed by her first on Broadway, then on tour, then finally back on the silver screen again, less than two years after she’d departed. Tracy Lord is Katharine Hepburn, and Katharine Hepburn would spend much of her career playing variations on Tracy Lord.

So who exactly is Tracy Lord?

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Wednesday
Apr092014

A Year With Kate: Holiday (1938)

Episode 15 of 52 as Anne Marie screens all of Katharine Hepburn's films in chronological order.

In which Katharine Hepburn is named Box Office Poison, which might be the best thing that could have happened to her.


WAKE UP! HOLLYWOOD PRODUCERS

Practically all of the major studios are burdened with stars--whose public appeal is negligible--receiving tremendous salaries necessitated by contractual obligations...

Among these players, whose dramatic ability is unquestioned but whose box office draw is nil, can be numbered Mae West, Edward Arnold, Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, and many, many others... Hepburn turned in excellent performances in 'Stage Door' and 'Bringing Up Baby' but both pictures died."

Reading that “wake up call” on the morning of May 3rd, 1938 had to sting. The Manhattan Independent Theatre Owners Association bought a full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter and the Independent Film Journal to air its grievances, and the effects for Kate were immediate. Here’s how quickly the dominoes fell... 

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Wednesday
Apr022014

A Year With Kate: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Episode 14 of 52 from Anne Marie's series screening Katharine Hepburn's films in chronological order.

In which there is a leopard on your roof and it’s my leopard and I have to get it down and to get it down I have to sing!

Bringing Up Baby is a movie I’m honestly a little afraid to discuss. This golden Howard Hawks comedy about a befuddled professor (Cary Grant), a ditzy socialite (Kate) and a leopard (Baby), rightly occupies many “best of” lists. But while we all know the legend behind the film--troubled production, loses money, critically panned, “box office poison,” etc--the reality is a little less dramatic. Well, except the critically panned part:

“In Bringing Up Baby Miss Hepburn has a role which calls for her to be breathless, senseless, and terribly, terribly fatiguing. She succeeds, and we can be callous enough to hint it is not entirely a matter of performance.”

In March of 1938, New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent devoted not one but two columns to eviscerating Bringing Up Baby. Though he was only one voice - Bringing Up Baby received mixed reviews both negative and positive - his vitriol cast a pall over the film’s reputation. It hurts my sense of justice that Nugent was allowed to say such terrible things about Hepburn and Bringing Up Baby, yet Kate never responded. I refuse to let that stand.

What follows are quotes from Nugent’s March 4th and 13th reviews (best read in the voice of Addison de Witt) with rebuttals taken from the film. After 76 years, Kate should get the last word.

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Wednesday
Mar262014

A Year With Kate: Stage Door (1937)

Episode 13 of 52 wherein Anne Marie screens all of Katharine Hepburn's films in chronological order.

In which we've finally made it to the good stuff, so let's celebrate with Katharine Hepburn vs Ginger Rogers in a battle of the stars.

Hallelujah! Katharine Hepburn has arrived! From the ashes of Quality Street she rises, patrician and perfect. After 12 weeks of inconsistent performances, to suddenly be confronted with Kate in all her Mid-Atlantic, New England-born, iron spined, pants-wearing glory is a downright religious experience. And lo, Katharine Hepburn did star in a Kaufman and Ferber adaptation, and it was good.

Stage Door is the limelight dramedy of a gaggle of Broadway hopefuls living at the fictional Footlights Club in New York. The original play was an ensemble piece, but director Gregory La Cava and writer Morrie Ryskind remade the the movie in the image of its stars. Ginger Rogers, then between musical blockbusters, stars as Jean Maitland, a cynical chorine who falls for a slimy producer (Adolph Menjou). Kate is Terry Randall, a rich New England girl who decides to make it in showbiz. Rounding out the cast are Eve Arden, Gail Patrick, Lucille Ball, baby-faced Ann Miller, and Andrea Leeds, whose bland Olivia de Havilland knock off somehow landed her an Oscar nomination, and therefore a mention here.

Catfights and calla lilies after the jump

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Wednesday
Mar192014

A Year With Kate: Quality Street (1937)

Episode 12 of 52 wherein Anne Marie screens all of Katharine Hepburn's films in chronological order

In which Katharine Hepburn is an old maid at 30 and sometimes I hate Old Hollywood.

It's strangely fitting that the last movie before Kate's string of classics turns out to be the worst film of her RKO career. Yes, I'm including Spitfire. Spitfire was laughably bad. Quality Street is downright insulting. But while groaning through the longest 82 minutes of my life, I did a little research, and I managed to solve the mystery behind the last 11 weeks of (mostly) bad movies. Better yet, I solved it with science. But first a little exposition.

I've been informed that I occasionally skip over major movie details/actor information/whatnot. Here's a quick summary: Based on a J.M. Barrie play, Quality Street is the story of a spinster teacher who, at 30 years old, finds herself too worn and ugly for her recently-returned beau (Franchot Tone, remember him?). Determined to win his heart, the spinster disguises herself as her prettier, (fictional) younger niece. This only works because by Hollywood Logic, Hepburn's bonnets have the same beauty-dampening power as Rachael Leigh Cook's glasses in She's All That.

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