Monday, June 30, 2003


I don't normally get all misty about celebrity deaths, but Katharine Hepburn was not only a great actress but a great person and I was genuinely sad to hear of her passing yesterday. Her greatest performances, in films like THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, THE LION IN WINTER, STAGE DOOR, and LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, are absolutely transcendent. I can't exactly say that her presence alone made a movie great (I'm not a fan of BRINGING UP BABY, largely because of Hepburn's grating performance in a silly role) but I've never regretted watching anything she was in (well, maybe THE RAINMAKER...). This film with a strong feminist slant doesn't get much coverage or credit, but it's interesting considering the time in which it was produced, and Hepburn does ultimately make the movie well worth watching. She plays a woman who grows up under the thumb of a repressive father (Donald Crisp) in Victorian England. Early on, we see Hepburn and her sister (Elizabeth Allan) being harshly chastized by Crisp for minor infractions, which only stiffens Hepburn's resolve to become independent. Allan, with a bit less spine than her sister, still manages to get out of the house by marrying David Manners, a dashing soldier, in a coupling of which Crisp approves. Hepburn goes against her father by seeing Van Heflin on the sly--it turns out he is married with a vindictive wife who won't give him a divorce even though they are no longer a functioning couple. She eventually leaves him, then discovers she's pregnant. Off in Italy, Allan, who is also pregnant, finds out that Manners has died and she promptly collapses and dies. Hepburn delivers her child and pretends it's her niece. Only the nurse, Lucile Watson, knows the truth.

She meets rich but stuffy diplomat Herbert Marshall (aren't all of Marshall's characters stuffy?) who wants to marry Hepburn, but she wants to remain free, and she soon has a job at a "ladies" magazine where she shakes things up by writing editorials about topics other than sewing and cooking. Years later, she is a famous writer and her daughter (Doris Dudley) falls in love with Van Heflin's son. Rather than tell her daughter the truth about her parentage, she forbids Dudley to see the boy, not giving her a good reason. Despite her best intentions, public scandal follows and Herbert Marshall comes back on the scene with some common sense to bring things to a relatively happy ending. The strangest thing about the fairly complicated plot is that the strong, truth-telling Hepburn continues lying to her daughter when simply telling her the truth would simplify things, and, of course, make a shorter movie. The plot, with its occasional soap-operaish turns, moves along nicely, cramming many incidents into its 90 minute running time. Eily Malyon is memorable as the mean governess early in the film. Dudley looks remarkably like Hepburn. Manners, in one of his last movie roles, is handsome as usual but doesn't have much to do. Heflin is fine and Marshall is his usual passive self. In fact, all the men are rather weak compared to Hepburn. If you want to watch a Hepburn movie in celebration of her life and career, I'd suggest one of the four I mention above in the second sentence of this review. But this one isn't bad and actually wears better than some of her other RKO films of the 30's. Even though I know she would never had made another picture, I'm still sad that Katharine Hepburn is no longer in this world. Thank goodness we still have her films.

No comments: