Katharine Hepburn, Alice Adams

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Otis Ferguson

"The Adams girl lived on the wrong side of town. She didn't get to parties, pretended that she simply couldn't stand going; she pretended that holes in stockings were a perfectly delightful eccentricity, that she was having a perfectly ducky time. And she was completely miserable....

"Miss Katharine Hepburn, as the heroine of this romantic business..., has a curiously unsympathetic role, when you consider it. She tries to make a spread, she is terribly filled with cheap aspirations, and she makes poor Fred Stone--the part of the father...--she makes him miserable. She poses, she acts a spurious part, she cheats. All of which is human, well we know it; but it is not the nicest type of human. Miss Hepburn gets some real stuff out through all this--as when she steps out of the part she is playing into her own right, into these little breathless things, like the place where the boy says, meaning it now after the whole picture, I love you, and she says, in a soft-focus close-up, Gee whiz, she says.

"And even in the midst of the faults to be found with her work, no one can doubt for a minute that Katharine Hepburn is one of the rare quick spirits to be seen anywhere, being in the last analysis one of those who can influence somewhat the world's conception of beauty in a woman. THere has been exploitation before of this business of a boy's hips, the dress falling from them in a clean line; and of this fine and evident carving in the bones of the head; and of these easy shifts of mood--tremulous, storming, suddenly lovely, etc. But Miss Hepburn has worked such qualities and mannerisms into a style, into something of her own that she herself has built and is true to. The trouble, particularly in this picture, is that the style is a restricted one, demanding certain special conditions for its best expression; and that anyway it is not a thickset style, but one that wearies quickly from overwork.

"The Little Minister was a silly picture, made up from a silly Barrie play; but I had one feeling all the way through, and that was a feeling of being thrown in touch with something beautiful, like springwater. Spitfire was completely cockeyed as a story, and yet the part of the mountain girl as played by Miss Hepburn was so resilient, direct, and near to some natural center as to be a strange and rather lovely thing to watch. In Alice Adams, though, Miss Hepburn is repeating the part-within-a-part routine of Morning Glory, giving too much to a role that was lean to start with, being studied, overaccented, too girlishly much. All this hushed wonder and elfin verve of hers, used not as one means of expressing something felt but as a whole conscious method in itself--the tacit assumption being that this is enough for all purposes and may without regard be put to all purposes--this becomes in time a palpable set of habits, no more.

"Miss Hepburn couldn't have made a good picture out of Alice Adams; but she shouldn't have made her performance in it simply a smudged copy of something that in time leaves open to easy jeers qualities that are essentially enough to take an ordinary person's breath away."

Otis Ferguson
The New Republic, September 4, 1935
The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson, p. 90-91

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pauline Kael

"Apart from her comedies, Katharine Hepburn has been best in Little Women, in Alice Adams, and, later in her career, in Long Day's Journey Into Night. As Alice Adams, her beautiful angularity and her faintly absurd Bryn Mawr accent are perfect for Booth Tarkington's desperately pretentious small-town social climber. The scene in which Alice, dressed in simple, exquisite taste, attends a party full of plushy, over-dressed "society" belles is a pointed commentary on American taste and social standards. Hepburn's pantomiming in some of the scenes is as fine as the best American acting I've ever seen--she makes Alice one of the few authentic American movie heroines...."

Pauline Kael
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (1968), p. 282

(Unlike Ferguson, Kael found this about the ending: "Alice's disbelieving "Gee whiz!" is matched by the audience's disbelief.")