Episode 49 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn, octogenarian and Academy Award-winning legend, wrestles a convict and wins.
“You’re too old not to be interesting,” Ryan O’Neal tells Katharine Hepburn midway through The Man Upstairs. As the 1980s rolled into the 1990s, that certainly turned out to be the case for Kate. The formerly private star was now the subject of documentaries, interviews, and the 1990 Kennedy Centers Honors. When she released her autobiography Me: Stories of My Life in 1992, it would have been fair to say that Kate was the busiest recluse in the business.
By this time, there had been so many biographies, interviews, and fictionalizations of her life--of which The Man Upstairs would prove to be another example--so Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography was her chance to set her life in stone once and for all. Told in Hepburn’s typical forthright, conversational style, Me: Stories From My Life may not be the most linear (or truthful) autobiography, but it is a fascinating character study nonetheless.
With all of this energy being put into the performance of being Katharine Hepburn (in book form and the accompanying TV special All About Me), Kate had precious little to devote to actual film projects, which may explain the underwhelming quality of The Man Upstairs. Our own Kate plays Victoria, a misanthrope living alone with only her maid and relations for company. Her life is shaken when an inept escaped convict named Mooney (Ryan O’Neal) takes up not-so-secret residence in her attic.
Kate takes great joy throughout the movie in alternately snapping and smiling at her costars. (She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her efforts.) O’Neal matches her in energy, but his oily charms slide into a whine too often. Because this is a holiday TV movie, the convict and the hermit become bosom friends, and he teaches her the true meaning of Christmas. The film is overall pretty formulaic, but it does give 85-year-old Kate the opportunity to smack 51-year-old Ryan O’Neal with her cane and wrestle a gun away from him. It’s the little things that make these movies, y'know?