Stage Door (1937)

Stage_Door_(1937)Watching Stage Door illustrates one of the pleasures of film because it’s an unassuming classic that very easily could be overshadowed by other films. Its main stars are Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn, who both have numerous films more well known than this one.

However, this story about a boarding house for aspiring stage actresses is a light piece of sassy fun while still finding moments for poignancy. Rogers is a cynical dancer named Jean, and she is not too pleased to be getting a new roommate. The last one moved elsewhere after constant fighting. But the new girl, Terry Randall (Hepburn), is different. She is from a well to do family, but she is pursuing a career in acting so that she might stretch herself.

The other girls look on with an air of contempt thanks to her fine clothes and pristine manners. She doesn’t fit the mold of many of the other struggling actresses looking for their big break. Many spend their evenings trying to grab hold of a sugar daddy such as famed theatrical producer Anthony Powell (Adolph Menjou). Several of the girls have their eyes on him as they try and land a role in his next big production.

Kay Hamilton is the most well-liked girl in the house and arguably one of the most gifted performers. She opened the year before in a production that won her rave reviews, however, a year later she has yet to get another break, and she is running out of funds. Powell’s show is her last big chance. Thus, when Powell cancels her audition last minute for a trivial reason, Kay faints and an irate Terry bursts into his office to confront him. He is initially turned off, but then he chooses her for the lead role of the upcoming Enchanted April.

Although the girls were beginning to warm to Terry, Jean has trouble forgiving her as tragedy strikes. In fact, Terry almost refuses to go on stage altogether, and yet she goes out and gives an emotional performance that is hailed by critics. In the end, Terry and Jean are reconciled which is far more important than any type of fanfare.

In many ways, Gregory La Cava’s Stage Door feels similar to The Women (1939). Both films have casts with women in the primary roles and the stories are at times volatile, with so much drama and many zinging comebacks. Some of this was courtesy of the supporting cast which included such legendary comediennes as Lucille Ball and Eve Arden. Ann Miller is even present, but at its core Stage Door is Ginger and Katharine’s film. Pardon my curiosity, but did Fred and Spencer ever do a film like this?

4/5 Stars

Holiday (1938)

2c3de-holiday_posterJohnny Case (Cary Grant) is a happy go lucky fellow who is crazy in love with the girl of his dreams. He returns to town telling his friends the Potters that he has plans to marry this girl he met 10 days ago at Lake Placid! He is ecstatic and not afraid to show it.

However, he must become acclimated with her family and their lifestyle. Most important is gaining the approval of her sometimes stuffy and always money-minded banking father. Julia Sefton is by all accounts a lovely girl who seems to truly return Johnny’s affection. Honestly, though he is not quite used to her type of society. He makes his entrance by arriving through the servant’s door and wanders around the stately manor marveling at all the trappings. Doing the rounds he runs into her drunken but genuine brother Ned (Lew Ayres). Then, there is sister Linda (Katharine Hepburn), the so-called black sheep of the family, although her only fault is being an energetic free-spirit.

Immediately she and Johnny hit if off, and she soon realizes that her sister has a real catch on her hands. The wedding is finally agreed upon by Mr. Seton, and a big New Year’s Eve Party is thrown much to Linda’s chagrin. The night of the big to do there are two parties that take place. Downstairs all the snobs and high society mingle with Julia parading Johnny around. Upstairs is a different matter where the quarantined Linda is eventually joined by the Potters,  Ned and even Johnny.

The little gathering gets quashed and that is not all. Father and daughter are adamant that Johnny works at the bank and make money because that’s what any respectful husband would do. They take little heed of Johnny’s dream to take a holiday once he has raised enough money to live off of. He just wants to live life free of distractions for awhile, but they just do not understand. Finally, Johnny is feeling too restricted by all the obligations to bear it any longer, because he simply cannot live that way. Again, both father and daughter do not understand. But Julia does, and she finally realizes what she must do. It’s time to take a holiday.

Here is a formidable trio in Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and director George Cukor. It makes me beg the question, how this film has become so overshadowed by Bringing up Baby and The Philadelphia Story? Johnny Case is a wonderfully vibrant role for Grant, and his acrobatics alone are worthwhile viewing. Hepburn on her part plays an equally spirited individual but without the scatter-brained or feisty edge that she often carried. Instead, she is just wonderfully footloose and fancy-free. Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon are an absolute riot, and I would love to have friends like them. Lew Ayres role was rather an odd one, but both Doris Nolan and Henry Kolker had an adequate amount of stuffiness to pull off their parts. That juxtaposition was necessary for the film to work and it did.

4/5 Stars

The Lion in Winter (1968)

ae367-lion_in_winter1The year is 1183 and the castle of King Henry II is a dark and dank place during the winter months. You would not think so by the opening moments where an energetic King (Peter O’Toole) duels his young boy John (Nigel Terry). His mistress takes in the scene from afar. On first glance, this whole scenario seems pleasant enough, but that would be far from the truth.

Young John is the King’s favorite, but his aged yet cunning wife Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn) has a special affection for the eldest brother Richard (Anthony Hopkins), who she desires to take the throne. Stuck between the two favorites is middle child Geoffrey (John Castle), who has plans of his own. Bring the French King Phillip II (Timothy Dalton) into the equation and the situation becomes even messier than before. What follows is an elaborate web of lies, deceptions, side deals, false motives, eavesdropping, and of course backstabbing. Henry and Eleanor constantly battle back and forth as their sons bicker among themselves. One big unhappy family to be sure.
Henry tries to marry off his mistress (Jane Merrow) to Richard to satisfy King Phillip, but his son will not have it. Next, Henry tries to compromise with Phillip only to learn that his sons were planning to gang up against him. Now he cannot trust any of them, and they find themselves in the dungeon. He makes a new plan to get remarried to his mistress so that he might have another son to be king, but his other sons will be a threat so long as they live. His dilemma is evident, but he cannot bear to kill them. Things seem to go back to the way they always were with Eleanor going back behind bars and Henry playfully barking at her. All’s well that ends well perhaps.

Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn were certainly two titans in this film. O’Toole, whether he is roaring or confiding in his former love, does everything with purpose and bravado. He does show his soft, vulnerable underbelly at times, though, as a man advanced in years. Hepburn on her part is absolutely acerbic, oftentimes governing the tone of the film with her barbs and snide comments. And yet with her, there is also at least a few instances of true humanity. She and Henry seem to be made for each other and their boys are seemingly just as loathsome and underhanded.

4/5 Stars


The Best Films of Katharine Hepburn

1. The African Queen
2. The Philadelphia Story
3. Bringing up Baby
4. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
5. Holiday
6. The Lion of Winter
7. Adam’s Rib
8. Long Day’s Journey Into the Night
9. Stage Door
10. Woman of the Year
11. On Golden Pond
12. Summertime
13. Alice Adams
14. Little Women
15. Pat and Mike
16. Desk Set

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

ff836-guess_who27s_coming_to_dinner_posterThis film directed by Stanley Kramer, has a relatively simple story line revolving around a major issue. Joanna Drayton has fallen in love with a doctor she met only 10 days before and wishes to get married. Obviously, her parents played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, are startled by this whirlwind event. They are even more dismayed when they discover he is a black man. Hepburn’s character lightens to the idea while her husband is adamantly against it. Soon everything becomes even more complicated when the man’s parents are invited to dinner, only to be equally startled. Eventually giving it more thought, Tracy does condone the marriage realizing how much his daughter is in love. This would be Tracy’s final film and he would die only a couple weeks after shooting ended. He and Hepburn do a wonderful job with Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hougton as well. This movie is good and also monumental for the racial issue it covered.

4/5 Stars

The African Queen (1951)

1c3a0-the-african-queen-1With the ultimate pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, this film throws together two starkly different people in extraordinary circumstances. Hepburn is a prim and proper missionary in Africa whose brother dies after a confrontation with German soldiers. Bogart is the rough-edged pilot of an old steamboat christened The African Queen. Together they take on the dangerous task of going down the river in order to sink a German ship. At first they are both at odds with each other and struggle to cope with their situation. However, with no one else to turn to, over time, they become close. Their bond is so great that they are willing to die rather than to be separated. This is truly a heartwarming story of love and loyalty with two legends who literally light up the screen.

5/5 Stars

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Headlined by Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart, The Philadelphia Story  tells a comical tale of a divorced socialite who is about to be remarried. Tracy Lord is an arrogant socialite who divorced her equally fiery husband C.K. Dexter Haven. Now it is the day before her wedding to another man. However, Haven returns and brings a long two magazine reporters to get a scoop they were forced into. After a lavish party and many drinks the reporter (Stewart) and Tracy Lord find themselves spending an inebriated night talking and swimming. Haven manipulates the situation and the future husband Kittridge, who catches the tail end, believes something bad is happening. The next morning the wedding is in jeopardy and Hepburn and Stewart are oblivious. Although nothing happened, Lord agrees to terminate the wedding and Mike (Stewart) tries to save her embarrassment by proposing marriage. However, she realizes it is not meant to be and goes to Haven while Mike returns to the camera woman who loves him. It all ends well but the joke is still on them in the end. This romantic comedy has a lot of star power and it is actually pretty good.

4.5/5 Stars

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

In this mile-a-minute screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks, Cary Grant is forced to deal with Katharine Hepburn’s ditsy socialite character. A Paleontologist (Grant) has been trying to assemble a dinosaur but he is missing a bone. On top of that Huxley is about to enter into an unhappy marriage and he also must impress a museum donor. The next day he meets a socialite (Hepburn) by accident and through a mix up he finds himself being taken to her home in order to help take care of a tame leopard named Baby. In the following chaos a dog buries the bone needed for the dinosaur, visitors come, Baby runs away, a wild leopard is on the loose, and the free-spirited girl finds herself falling for “Mr. Bone.” To complicate matters, the pair wind up in jail trying to explain their story to a quirky constable. In the end everything works out and despite the craziness, Huxley realizes he cannot live without this girl. This may not be  my favorite screwball comedy, but I would say it definitely is the zaniest and that stands for something.

4/5 Stars

Happy Birthday Katharine Hepburn

Today I want to give a nod to Katharine Hepburn who was one of the great leading ladies of Hollywood. She was born on this day back in 1907 and her career spanned from the 1930s into the 80s. She had many memorable roles in films such as Bringing up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen, and On Golden Pond. Over the years Hepburn also had many great collaborations with another legend, Spencer Tracy. Her recognizable voice and her roles as strong characters make her a mainstay of film. Out of her work, two of my favorites would probably be the African Queen (1951) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).

Adam’s Rib (1949)

Starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as a married pair of lawyers on the opposite sides of a case, this film begins with a bang. A distraught wife followed her husband home to find him cheating and she shot a gun off. In the ensuing days she is being charged with assault and the case is getting major publicity. Adam Bonner is the district attorney put on the case believing the law must be upheld but much to his chagrin she chooses to represent the other side. Thus begins an uproarious battle of the sexes. The pair continually spar inside the courtroom then return to their normal lives at home. However, after some bad publicity they are pulled apart by the case and their marriage is in trouble. After the case is won by Amanda Bonner a seemingly angered Adam shows up with a gun. Hilarity ensues along with a fight, however importantly in the end the Bonners reunite. They realize they cannot live apart. As always Tracy and Hepburn are wonderful together and they have a good supporting cast behind them including Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, and Jean Hagen.

4/5 Stars