Saturday, Aug. 30, highlights on Turner Classic Movies: Despite the fact that many of her movies were financial – and sometimes critical – flops, her being included in a 1937 list of box office poisoners, the frequent intervals between films in her later years, and her lack of anything even resembling sex appeal (or sex anything, for that matter), Katharine Hepburn probably had the most distinguished film career of the 20th century.
Hepburn was a major star at two studios – RKO in the 1930s, MGM in the 1940s; she received 12 Academy Award nominations spanning nearly five decades (from Morning Glory, 1932-33, to On Golden Pond, 1981); she won a total of four Oscars – more than any other film performer (for the aforementioned two films, plus Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967, and The Lion in Winter, 1968, tied with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl); and she was the muse of one of the most renowned directors of the studio era, George Cukor, with whom she made 10 films (including two made-for-TV movies).
Also, Hepburn has won awards at Venice (Little Women, 1933) and Cannes (Long Day’s Journey Into Night, 1962), in addition to a New York Film Critics award (for The Philadelphia Story, 1940) and two British Academy Awards (for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Lion in Winter, 1968, and On Golden Pond, 1981); she made no less than three major feature-film comebacks (The Philadelphia Story, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and On Golden Pond); and she was the female half of one of the most celebrated film couples in history (Spencer Tracy was the male half). Ah, before I forget: in the right role, Katharine Hepburn could be a hell of an actress.
Several Hepburn hits (and several Hepburn duds, as well) will be shown on TCM next Saturday.
You’ll be able to see Hepburn at her worst, all mannerisms abetted by a grating, metallic-fluttery line delivery in both Morning Glory (right, with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and Little Women (1933, she received raves for her performance in the latter), and at her best in Bringing Up Baby (1938), one of the greatest screwball comedies ever, and in John Huston’s highly entertaining The African Queen (1951), with Hepburn as a prissy missionary who earns the respect and love of boatie Humphrey Bogart. (Robert Morley is equally great as her brother.)
Directed by Gregory La Cava and adapted for the screen by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller (from Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman’s stage hit), Stage Door (1937), about struggling actresses living at a boarding house, must be seen again and again if only so one can try to fully understand the dialogue, spoken at machine-gun-fire speed. Hepburn is good as the up-and-coming actress, but my favorite Stage Door performance is that of a deliciously caustic Ginger Rogers. Adolphe Menjou tries to ruin everything – as usual – but he can be easily ignored when you have the option of looking instead at Hepburn, Rogers, Ann Miller, Eve Arden, Gail Patrick, Constance Collier, Franklin Pangborn, Lucille Ball, or Academy Award-nominated Andrea Leeds.
The Philadelphia Story (above, Cary Grant almost steals the show in a, relatively speaking, sedate role), Pat and Mike (with Hepburn proving that women can more than handle their own in sports and in life), the unusual Sylvia Scarlett (with Hepburn passing for a man – Gwyneth Paltrow should have watched it before tackling Shakespeare in Love), and Woman of the Year (in which you learn that a woman’s cooking capabilities don’t a good wife make) are all worth watching, but the Hepburn film I’d most recommend is one of her lesser-known (and less well-received) efforts: The Rainmaker.
One of Broadway director Joseph Anthony’s few features, The Rainmaker is a theatrical adaptation of N. Richard Nash’s play (Nash also penned the screenplay) in which Hepburn plays a talented and intelligent – but plain – spinster-to-be who falls for Burt Lancaster’s Rainmaker. Anthony handles his actors as if he were directing for the stage – a common approach in the 1950s (think A Hatful of Rain, Born Yesterday, Picnic, The Bad Seed, etc.) and there’s much scenery-chewing all around (Burt Lancaster probably suffered severe indigestion after acting in The Rainmaker), but Hepburn is simply flawless as the insecure woman who discovers her true worth.
Bosley Crowther in the New York Times: In The Rainmaker, “Miss Hepburn, who has done her farce performing on a somewhat higher social scale, is nothing daunted by the requirement of doing it as a rube. And even though her manners are quite airy for the Corn Belt and her accent suspiciously Bryn Mawr, she holds her own better than even with a bunch of voracious clowns.”
Now, when will TCM show the nearly impossible to find The Iron Petticoat? It probably sucks – Bob Hope is the star – but I’d be curious to check out Hepburn in this (poorly received) Ninotchka remake.
Schedule (Pacific Time) and synopses from the TCM website:
3:00 AM Morning Glory (1933)
A stage struck girl travels to New York determined to make it on Broadway. Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Adolphe Menjou. Director: Lowell Sherman. Black and white. 74 min.
4:15 AM Mary of Scotland (1936)
Biography of the flighty Scottish queen who was brought down by love. Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Fredric March, Florence Eldridge. Director: John Ford. Black and white. 124 min.
6:30 AM Stage Door (1937)
Women at a theatrical boarding house try to make their big break happen. Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou. Ann Miller. Lucille Ball. Gail Patrick. Eve Arden. Director: Gregory La Cava. Black and white. 92 min.
8:15 AM Katharine Hepburn (One) (1973)
Katharine Hepburn appears on The Dick Cavett Show in an interview that originally aired September 14, 1973. Color. 68 min.
9:30 AM Little Women (1933)
The four March sisters fight to keep their family together and find love while their father is off fighting the Civil War. Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Frances Dee, Jean Parker, Douglass Montgomery, Spring Byington. Director: George Cukor. Black and white. 116 min.
11:30 AM Bringing Up Baby (1938)
A madcap heiress upsets the staid existence of a straitlaced scientist. Cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Charlie Ruggles, May Robson. Director: Howard Hawks. Black and white. 102 min.
3:15 PM Pat And Mike (1952)
Romance blooms between a female athlete and her manager. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Aldo Ray. Director: George Cukor. Black and white. 95 min.
5:00 PM Woman of the Year (1942)
Opposites distract when a sophisticated political columnist falls for a sportswriter. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Fay Bainter. Director: George Stevens. Black and white. 114 min.
7:00 PM African Queen, The (1951)
A grizzled skipper and a spirited missionary take on the Germans in Africa during World War I. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley. Director: John Huston. Color. 105 min.
9:00 PM Rainmaker, The (1956)
A fake rainmaker melts the heart of a Kansas spinster while trying to save the town’s crops. Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, Wendell Corey. Director: Joseph Anthony. Color. 121 mins. Letterbox Format
11:15 PM On Golden Pond (1981)
During a summer holiday, an elderly couple comes to grips with aging and their troubled relationship with their adult daughter. Cast: Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Dabney Coleman. Director: Mark Rydell. Color. 109 mins. Letterbox Format
1:15 AM Sylvia Scarlett (1936)
A female con artist masquerades as a boy to escape the police. Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Edmund Gwenn, Brian Aherne. Director: George Cukor. Black and white. 95 min.