Katharine Hepburn, Morning Glory

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Andrew Sarris

"....Simply in terms of studio mystiques, RKO has always been as much under-rated as MGM has been over-rated. From another perspective entirely, however, though an inescapably obvious one, the thirties preceded the forties and Hepburn was younger, wilder, rawer, fresher, more vibrant, more vulnerable, and, most of all, more threatening....

"My earliest moviegoing memories of Kate are in Mary of Scotland (1936) and Stage Door (1937), and in the latter classic I was more taken with Ginger Rogers and Andrea Leeds than with Hepburn. It was not until I was older and began seeing her films in revival that I began responding to something extraordinary in her talent. Morning Glory (1933), Alice Adams, and Holiday remain the major revelations in the thirties, but there are flashes as well in Little Women (1933), The Little Minister (1934), Sylvia Scarlett (1936), and A Woman Rebels (1936)....

"George Cukor, who was a quintessential survivor in his own right, tried to build up Hepburn's performance in A Bill of Divorcement at the expense of her Oscar-winning performance in Lowell Sherman's Morning Glory. Yet Morning Glory is an infinitely better movie by any standard, and Hepburn's performance is light years more advanced, with a self-mocking irony and delirious rapture that few actresses have ever attempted, much less achieved. It is as fantastically original a creation as Garbo's in Camille, but, whereas Garbo strips away the conventions with a seductive humor, Hepburn explodes the conventions with a baroque hysteria. She is all the brashness of youth uncorrupted by the whorishly ingratiating tricks of the grandes dames of the theater. Take me as I am, rough edges and all, she seemed to say, and, naturally everyone said in response, learn to smooth out your rough edges. That is not me, dear audience, that is the part. Look how awful the character I play happens to be.

"Yet, Hepburn's rough edges generated an emotional electricity on the screen during her RKO period, but an electricity that has been appreciated only very recently for its transmission of deep feeling. From the beginning there were in Hepburn's voice and manner two distinctly annoying tendencies, the first a self-assured acknowledgment of her upper-class origins, and the second a Shavian independence of spirit. In some ways, she manifested radical chic before it was chic. She was a meddlerr in movies, but not ultimately a prima donna. Top billing, for example, never held any sacred importance for her, and she virtually sponsored many other people's careers. Yet she would fight tooth and nail over the direction of a scene. It was her intelligence and not her vanity for which she demanded tribute, and she did not bother disguising her assertiveness. Yet, though her performances were often demeaned by critics as abrasive and artificial, they have more guts in them than almost anything else of their time. In Morning Glory she documents every young girl's troubled dreams of becoming an actress. In Alice Adams she vibrates with every snub known to a girl straining to rise above her station. The nakedness of feeling in her thirties films enriched the cinema with an eroticism of the heart. The late Andre Bazin once wrote that Charlie Chaplin's was the cinema of a free man. For a time, Katharine Hepburn's cinema was the cinema of a free woman."

Andrew Sarris
Village Voice,
You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet (1998), p. 450-53.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005