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Entries in Old Hollywood (74)

Wednesday
Jul232014

A Year with Kate: The Iron Petticoat (1956)

Episode 30 of 52:  In which you’d think Katharine Hepburn would have learned to stay away from accents by now.

The 50s were a time of great growth for Kate. The studio system collapsed and stars became more autonomous (Kate had left MGM after Pat & Mike) and Kate used the opportunity to break out of the glamorous-but-dull mold she'd been thrust into. She pursued scripts, directors, and collaborations that electrified her onscreen and off. She toured in Shakespeare, worked with Oscar-nominated directors, and forged a career renaissance even as her contemporaries flailed. Yes, the films she made contained the dreaded "S" word, but if her ladies were single, they were also single-minded and smart. Kate could have been pushed to the side. Instead she found great roles and challenged herself with the opportunities a collapsing system afforded. If her films seem troublesome now, the craftsmanship and artistic growth of this period cannot be denied.

And then there's The Iron Petticoat.

Folks, I sprained my shoulder on Friday and ended up in the emergency room. Despite the pain, I would almost rather go through it again than re-watch The Iron Petticoat. It’s that bad. [More...]

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Wednesday
Jul162014

A Year with Kate: Summertime (1955)

Episode 29 of 52: In which David Lean's beautiful romantic classic gives Katharine Hepburn an eye infection and me a headache

I admit it. The spinster movies confuse me. When Nick and Nathaniel invited me on the podcast (Have you listened to the podcast? Go listen to the podcast), I stated outright that I don’t like Summertime. As a fan, I take almost personal offense hearing my idol continuously called “plain” or (at best) “interesting-looking.”

But as a cinephile, David Lean’s 1955 love letter to Venice engages me. I can’t help it. I’m a sucker for a scopophilic travelogue cinematography. And trains. And Technicolor films that overuse the color red. And judging from last year's Hit Me With Your Best Shot submissions for Summertime, many of you share my inner conflict.

Summertime is more a mood piece than a plot-driven story. David Lean exorcised most of the third act from Arthur Laurents’ original play, Time of the Cuckoo, in order to create a sweetly romantic view of Venice, love, and September romance. Kate plays Jane Hudson, a secretary from Akron, Ohio who comes to Venice for… something. Adventure, maybe? Hanging out the window of the train to the city with her 8mm camera rolling, Jane proves herself immediately to be a curious and active observer.

Red goblets be damned; that 8mm camera is most important object in David Lean's movie. [More...]

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Monday
Jul142014

Podcast: Katharine with a side of Bette!

In this special edition of the podcast, Nathaniel welcomes two Katharine Hepburn buffs Nick Davis and Anne Marie Kelly to talk about their (shared) first Actress Obsession. Naturally Kate the Great isn't the only diva that finds her way into the conversation. Expect supporting roles or cameos: Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, Tennessee Williams, Deborah Kerr, Spencer Tracy, Audrey Hepburn, George Cukor and more...

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments.

00:00 Intro. Plus Middle School drama: Hilariously "intense" early obsessions
13:00 Types, Genres, and Suddenly Last Summer
17:00 Her autobiography and films she loathed like Dragon Seed
22:00 Chemistry and co-stars
33:00 Revisiting unsatisfying movies -- raise a cocktail to this peculiar cinephile habit
40:00 The Spinster & The Magic Penis
47:00 Bette Davis and why we compare them. Silliness before the sign off.

Further Reading
Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Summertime 
Nick's Hepburn Oscar Profile
A Year With Kate: Pat & Mike
A Year With Kate: Dragon Seed 
A Year With Kate: Christopher Strong
Me: Stories of My Life (Book)
The Making of the African Queen (Book)
Alex Von Tunzelmann & Self Styled Siren (Twitter) 

Kate with a side of Bette

Wednesday
Jul092014

A Year With Kate: Pat and Mike (1952)

Episode 28 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn proves hitting like a girl is a good thing.

Guess what! My dad met Katharine Hepburn. Decades before I was born, unfortunately, which seems like poor parenting on his part. Anyway, my dad was a professional tennis player in the early 1970s. Since he looked cute in shorts and was charming company (two traits I inherited from him along with his humility), he’d get invited to parties before tournaments in LA and Las Vegas. At one such party, he met Kate the Great. Dad’s words:

“I recall her as being very petite, wonderful husky voice, would look at you directly when speaking… Like so many actors, actresses etc., incredible charisma… Incredible spunk but not an outstanding athlete... By the then Hollywood standards, she may well have been great.”

Please keep in mind that this meeting was twenty years after Pat and Mike, so it’s possible my dad’s opinion may have been different if he’d seen her play in her prime. And have no doubts, Katharine Hepburn may have been 45 when she picked up a tennis racket and a golf club for Pat and Mike, but she was definitely still in her physical prime. Pat and Mike, Kate and Spencer Tracy's seventh film together, is a showcase for KHep’s mad sports skills.

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Wednesday
Jul022014

A Year with Kate: The African Queen (1951)

Episode 27 of 52: In which Kate goes to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston, and almost loses her mind. 

When Katharine Hepburn decides to make a change in her career, she does not screw around. Kate’s first film of the 1950s (after a year off doing Shakespeare) was directed by John Huston, was shot in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff on location in Africa, and costarred Humphrey Bogart. When it opened in 1951, The African Queen was a hit, and eventually scored four Academy Award nominations (only Bogie won).

The story of making The African Queen is as incredible as the film itself. Everyone involved almost died at least once. Kate wrote a book on it (add author to her list of accomplishments), and it’s a fantastic read. Relevant to our interests is the fact that Kate got dysentery and dropped 20 pounds, making her already willowy frame even skinnier, a fact that would not be readily guessed from the promotional art:

"One of these things is not like the other..."

Bogie’s got biceps! Kate’s got curves! What the hell? This has got to be my favorite example of misleading poster art, and not just because Kate looks hilariously like Rita Hayworth. This poster displays the conflicting image shift that happened for Kate in the early 1950s. The African Queen is the film that launched the spinster phase of Kate’s career. But though romantic glamor was a thing of the past image-wise, romance--specifically sex--would become even more important. 

One sentence plot summary: A theologian thrillseeker and a half-cocked Canadian captain run a rustbucket boat down a river in the Congo to bomb the German navy in WWI. Sex and danger after the jump.

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