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#167. Katharine Hepburn

As impressive a feat as winning three Oscars for acting may be, one has to consider that some of those wins might be for a Supporting role. For instance, while Meryl Streep has won three Oscars for acting, only two were for Best Actress. The only actor to win all three of his Oscars for Best Actor is Daniel Day-Lewis. Of course, when only five people have won three awards for acting, the feat is hard to match. That is, unless you’ve beaten that record. Katharine Hepburn is just such an actress. Not only has she won four Oscars, but all four were for the Best Actress category. Furthermore, even though she doesn’t have as many nominations as Meryl Streep, all 12 of Hepburn’s nominations were for Best Actress. Even more to the point, Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator (2004). This week’s two films examine some of Katharine Hepburn’s lighter work.

Bringing Up BabyBringing Up Baby
Year: 1938
Rating: G
Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours

Even though Katharine Hepburn bookended her career with Best Actress wins, it doesn’t mean that she worked in serious films the entire time. In fact, some of the films she acted in were initially considered failures. While many factors can work against a film being successful, over time its cultural significance emerges and makes it a classic. After all, sometimes we go to the movies not to think about deep subjects, but to laugh and be entertained. And there’s nothing more entertaining than a screwball comedy. Perhaps it was the fact that Bringing Up Baby was filled with screwball characters that alienated its original audience, but when we look at its legacy now, we see a stupendous film, despite its designation as “low comedy” (i.e. slapstick and fart jokes). What really helped cement this film’s greatness were the performances of its lead actors: Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

Let’s face it: leopards make lousy pets. Unfortunately, the wealthy seem to gravitate toward keeping exotic animals, despite the challenges in keeping them. Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) is now in possession of a leopard she received from her brother. The leopard is meant for their aunt, Elizabeth Random (May Robson), but Susan knows nothing about keeping leopards. In comes David Huxley (Cary Grant), a paleontologist who is looking to impress Mrs. Random in order to receive a large donation to his museum. Unfortunately, Susan does not know the difference between a paleontologist and a zoologist, and so she gets David to help her raise the leopard. Adding to the unfortunate circumstance, David is a day away from marrying Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker) and cannot spare any energy for these crazy antics. Still, Cupid’s arrow is a cruel mistress.

The Philadelphia StoryThe Philadelphia Story
Year: 1940
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 112 minutes / 1.86 hours

When a movie containing Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart comes along, there’s no doubt that it will be excellent. The Philadelphia Story does not disappoint on this aspect. Reminiscent of the aforementioned Bringing Up Baby, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant worked well together to produce another quality comedy. In fact, The Philadelphia Story was the fourth of four comedies featuring the pair, preceded by Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Holiday (1938), and Bringing Up Baby (1938). One of Hepburn’s 12 nominations was for her role in this film, even though the only two Oscars it won were for its writing and for James Stewart’s performance. This Best Actor role was obvious in the film, as Stewart gives one of the best drunk scenes ever seen in cinema. The American Film Institute (AFI) has placed this film at #44 on its top 100 list, whereas Bringing Up Baby only made it to #88.

Hepburn plays a rich woman by the name of Tracy Samantha Lord Haven who is about to be re-married. However, when a tabloid reporter, Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart), and her ex-husband, C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), show up, she begins to do a bit of soul searching. While she wants to marry George Kittredge (John Howard), she’s now torn between him, the ex-husband her younger sister adores, and the mysterious reporter. As the wedding approaches, the stress gets to Tracy and she ends up drinking a bit too much, which is somewhat ironic considering one of the reasons she divorced Dexter in the first place was because of his alcoholism. However, she wasn’t the only one drunk, as Mike joined in the festivities. After finding out that Mike and Tracy went for a swim, the fiancé leaves, but the guests are already there! They expect a wedding, and a wedding they will get, but for who?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Katharine Hepburn classics

Bacon #: 2 (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner / Timothy Scott -> Footloose / Kevin Bacon)

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3 responses to “#167. Katharine Hepburn

  1. Pingback: #019. River Boat Sailing | Cinema Connections

  2. Pingback: #093. James Stewart | Cinema Connections

  3. Pingback: End of Act Four | Cinema Connections

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