Archive for Katherine Hepburn

In the playroom

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2017 by dcairns

So, we saw, and were very entertained by a film in which a young man meets his girlfriend’s wealthy family at their home. They include an authoritative dad and a drunken son. Something isn’t right. He starts to suspect he’s fallen into a terrible trap…

But I’m not talking about GET OUT, which we also enjoyed very much. Today’s topic is HOLIDAY, which I can’t believe I haven’t seen before, and which has now shot up to the top of my George Cukor list. What was there before? I’m not even sure. The problem with me, when you come right down to it, is that I probably didn’t have a George Cukor list at all.

This one is classed as a screwball comedy — while I realise that nothing is more boring or pointless than arguing about genre definitions. Screwball, apart from being quintessentially American and essentially mid-thirties to mid-forties, is really more like a collection of desirable items than a readily-defined genre. If you have enough of the items, as we do here (eccentric heiress, class barriers overcome, playful/childish behaviour asserted as a right) then it ought to qualify. But there’s also the indefinable, personal quality of what it feels like. And in a sense I felt the anxiety of the pressure to conform in HOLIDAY more strongly and consistently than I felt the joy of letting go. In a sense, the joy is intensified by the pressures around it, but the forces that are at work to make Cary Grant into a highly-paid wage slave and trophy husband are always on our minds.

Cary Grant gets to show off his expertise in tumbling with a series of spectacular back-flips. Katherine Hepburn is more vulnerable than usual, and makes it work. Lew Ayres is, my God, TERRIFIC — the heart and soul of the film, in a way. If the movie isn’t as well-known as the Hepburn-Cukor PHILADELPHIA STORY, also from a play by Philip Barry, it may because Ayres complicates it, makes it less than totally joyous. He’s a casualty of the household Hepburn and Grant have to escape, and we don’t really believe he’s ever going to be alright. So the happy ending, which is inevitable, is surprisingly compromised, undermined — elated, but with a scintilla of unease.

This movie makes me curious to see the 1930 original — it was an indecently-soon remake. Edward Everett Horton plays the same role in both versions (he’s marvelously understated, by his eccentric standards). I’m also curious about another Barry adaptation, the pro-Soviet SPRING MADNESS, with Ayres again, directed by my recent discovery S. Sylvan Simon. TCM is airing that one soon if American readers are curious.

Too Much!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 9, 2013 by dcairns


Orson Welles’ TOO MUCH JOHNSON at the Pordenone Silent Film festival — a perfect conjunction of film and event, since this is Welles’ only silent film apart from HEARTS OF AGE (of which he said, “That’s not a film!”) and it contains references to Mack Sennett and Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, and the film was rediscovered right here in Pordenone.

A packed screening — I had attended some wonderful rarities earlier today, which played to something less than the capacity of the capacious Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, so I ambled up to the joint half an hour before start of play and was surprised to find the queue stretching round the block. I knew the film was on several times, and hadn’t realized this was the world premiere. Anyway, I got in, seated way up in the gods, and waited tensely through some long introductory speeches, in two languages…

I’m writing a full review for my friends at The Notebook, which I’ll link to when the time comes, but for now I’ll just say that what was screened, though incomplete, uncut, full of alternate takes, and missing the chunks of narrative that would have been performed live (since the film was only one element in a stage show), is entertaining, funny, Wellesian and, by virtue of its very roughness, extremely revealing of Welles working practice. It’s supposed to be a slapstick silent comedy set around the end of the nineteenth century but clearly evoking 1910s Keystone Cops comedy — but Welles can’t help displaying his nascent sensibility, so the deliberately stagy interiors and planimetric chase scenes alternate with bursts of semi-Eisensteinian montage frenzy, and dutch tilts, looming low angles, fast pans — Welles hasn’t discovered camera movement yet, but you could practically say that visually, apart from  that, it’s all there.

And how many times did Joseph Cotten nearly kill himself making this short film right at the start of his career? Still, for him at least, TOO MUCH JOHNSON was worth it — the play, performed without the film because the little Connecticut theatre they opened in lacked projection facilities, was a badly reviewed, but Katherine Hepburn liked it so much she cast Cotten in The Philadelphia Story on Broadway.

A more substantial review from Silent London.

The Hepburn-RKO-J.M. Barrie Axis of Whimsy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2013 by dcairns

Two J.M. Barrie adaptations, filmed at RKO, starring Katherine Hepburn, QUALITY STREET and THE LITTLE MINISTER.


THE LITTLE MINISTER, directed by Richard Wallace, is set in Barrie’s native Scotland and showcases Kate’s Bryn Mawr version of a Highland burr. Several real Scots provide doughty support — Andy Clyde is particularly enjoyable, and Sherlock Holmes regulars Alec Craig (in his first movie role, according to the IMDb) and Mary Gordon make welcome appearances. Donald Crisp looks exactly as he did thirty years later in GREYFRIAR’S BOBBY, but sounds different — he nailed the accent sometime in the intervening years.

But why no James Finlayson?

Poor John Beal struggles with the R-rolling, and is blown off the screen by Hepburn in gypsy drag. Flashes of authentic Scottish scenery, including brief use of the zoom lens (quite popular at RKO at this time — see also KING KONG).


QUALITY STREET is, we thought, the superior production. Never mind that Barrie’s conceit, Hepburn scrubbing up and impersonating a fictitious younger relative to fool Franchot Tone, even though Tone knows perfectly well what she looks like, is unworkable on-screen (suspension of disbelief and the perpetual long-shot would sell it on stage). Never mind that the whole cast is doing convincing English accents except tone-deaf Tone. Enjoy the Napoleonic era gadgets (women’s veils which swish open on a drawstring like net curtains, English geisha shoes for walking in the rain) and the dialogue and performances and director George Stevens’ elegant, witty framing.

In the prologue, Hepburn is disappointed in love as her beau decides to go off to the wars — she sits by the window with her aunt, and the Greenaway-symmetry does something expressive and very un-Greenawayesque: it captures their resignation to staying unmarried for life. Possibly while sitting in the window.