Tag Archives: The Philadelphia Story

Katharine the Great

Katharine HepburnKatharine Hepburn (1907-2003) is the subject of a major retrospective through February and March at the BFI in London. Much as I admire her, I find a little of her goes a long way – but she did appear in some wonderful films during her six-decade career, including several of my all-time favourites. Here’s a list of my top five Katharine Hepburn films from the vast collection screening at the BFI.

1. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Philadelphia Story poster 2Who could forget Hepburn as the haughty, ice maiden who has a meltdown on the eve of her society wedding when Spy magazine sends an attractive young reporter (and his photographer girlfriend) to cover her big day, her still-smitten first husband turns up, and she discovers that the high moral standards she imposes on others are occasionally hard to adhere to herself. An Oscar-winning James Stewart (for my money he could have won the award for his drunk scene alone) and an especially charismatic Cary Grant also star in this glorious, sophisticated and very funny classic from director George Cukor.

2. Woman of the Year (1942)Woman of the Year poster

Hepburn plays a famous political newspaper columnist who first spars with then falls in love with her newspaper’s sports editor in this utterly delightful George Stevens romantic comedy which features one of the all-time great comedy sequences, when Hepburn’s gal-about-town character tries to prove that the domestic stuff is as easy as pie, and comes a memorable cropper in the kitchen. Like The Philadelphia Story, this is a particular delight for wardrobe-watchers as Hepburn’s clothes were designed by the great Adrian. And it’s also the first of the nine films that she made with her real-life long-term love, Spencer Tracy.

3. Summertime (1955)

Summertime posterWhile other middle-aged female stars were forced to play bitter and twisted women clinging on to their youth (and their men) – All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard etc – Hepburn gave a wonderful, appealingly vulnerable performance as a “spinster” falling in love for the first time during a holiday in Venice in this beautiful and sensitive film by director David Lean. Neither the 40-something Hepburn nor Venice ever looked lovelier.

4. The African Queen (1951)The African Queen posterJohn Huston’s exciting First World War-set adventure/romance stars Hepburn as a buttoned-up missionary who finds herself (in more ways than one) when she and boozy steamboat captain Humphrey Bogart (who won his only Oscar for his performance) undertake an increasingly dangerous journey downriver, taking on the elements, the river currents and even the Germans at various points.

5. Alice Adams (1935) Alice Adams poster

Despite what the poster says, Hepburn was in fact in her later twenties when she played the awkward young social climber whose compulsive need to put on airs and graces (and force her slightly screwy family to do the same) is her undoing in this gentle comedy from George Stevens. It also starred a young Fred MacMurray, and Hepburn counted it as one of her favourite of her own films.

* Visit www.whatson.bfi.org.uk for the full programme

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Movies

Style File: Katharine Hepburn

Today is the birthday of the late, great Katharine Hepburn, a movie star who refused to bow to convention and who evolved an androgynous look that is still inspirational today. Whether the above, early 1940s, photo is Hepburn in her own kit or in one of her characters’, it nevertheless reflects the distinctive Hepburn style: simple, mannish tailoring (and brogues) combined with loose, feminine hair. She was photographed in 1937 wearing similar gear, on the set of Stage Door (that’s Ginger Rogers on the left).

I love Hepburn’s look in The Philadelphia Story (1940) – apart from the intentionally OTT flouncy gingham number she wears during the performance she puts on for the reporters from Spy Magazine.  Here she is with James Stewart in the scene in the library. Love the Wee Willie Winky hat …

Designed by Adrian, this is the stand-out gown in the film, appropriately classical because Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord, is seen (not least, by herself) as something of a goddess..

The gown she had worn when she played Tracy in the original stage production of The Philadelphia Story was even more overt in its nod to Greek influences.

My other favourite Hepburn movie is the one she made after The Philadelphia Story. Woman of the Year (1942) is another stylish and very funny comedy – about the love affair that develops between two writers on the same newspaper: Tess (Hepburn), the world-renowned political columnist, and Sam (Spencer Tracy), the top sports reporter.  Here they are at Tess’s first-ever baseball game.

Tess and Sam get married – not at the end of the film, but maybe halfway through. Here’s Hepburn looking elegant(and radiant – she had just fallen in love with her co-star, after all – in the wedding dress which Adrian designed for her.

Sadly, I couldn’t find a photo of Tess in the stripy Adrian suit she memorably wears in the film, but here she is in the film’s most celebrated scene, trying unsuccessfully to be the kind of wife who cooks breakfast for her husband. The straps on her pinafore-style dress were not purely decorative: they provided some of the comedy as they continuously got in the way of her attempts to get to grips with unfamiliar kitchen gadgets.

3 Comments

Filed under Style