Weekend’s Best Bet Continued…

In running through TCM’s lineup for this weekend, I came across far too many good flicks to list in my regular viewing recommendations in the left column. Not only are there a number of gems showing this weekend, but I have already written about a few them. So click on the links below to learn more about the movies and consider checking them out yourself this weekend. P.S. All times are Eastern Standard Time and on the U.S. programming schedule.

The Public Enemy
6 am Saturday on TCM
James Cagney, Jean Harlow

The Saint Strikes Back
noon Saturday on TCM
George Sanders, Wendy Barrie

Dinner at Eight 
8 pm Saturday on TCM
John Barrymore, Marie Dressler

The Thin Man
10 pm Saturday on TCM
William Powell, Myrna Loy

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 
2 am Sunday on TCM
Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

 San Francisco
8 am Sunday on TCM
Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald

A Day at the Races
10 am Sunday on TCM
The Marx Brothers

Witness for the Prosecution
noon Sunday on TCM
Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power

Alice Adams

Gasser

Alice Adams (1935)

     History paints Katharine Hepburn as anything but a delicate, girlish sort, and the woman is often discussed as an ideal feminist. In Alice Adams, a young Hepburn does indeed embody a sort of feminist part, but it is hidden beneath so thick a mask of social properness and female expectations it is nearly unbearable.

     Alice belongs to a family consisting of a nearly invalid father whose job is being held at the pharmacy while he recovers, a brother who gambles and is otherwise socially disagreeable, and a mother who wants her daughter’s dreams to come true so much that she pushes the family into untenable situations.

     At the film’s start, Alice is preparing to go to a dance at the home of the small town’s upper crust family. The young woman hopes no one will recognize her two-year-old dress and makes a corsage of picked violets when purchasing one proves unaffordable. Her date is her unhappy brother, whose ugly truck prompts Alice to request he park it in the street lest anyone see her exiting it.

    At the social affair, Alice walks about with the air and poise of a well sought-after woman, but finds she is the only one left without a dance partner. She eventually subjects herself to dancing with an oafish fellow with whom she earlier would have been too proud to be seen. Just as her situation is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for us to watch, the handsome Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray) asks an introduction with Alice and engages her in a spin around the floor. Arthur is from a wealthy family and is allegedly engaged to the party’s hostess Mildred Palmer (Evelyn Venable). All while dancing, Alice rattles in soft and gay tones about the semi-fictional life she pretends to live. When the dance is over, Alice feigns a full dance card to meet Arthur’s expectation that they are not able to share another dance, despite his desire to. The girl then retreats home, separating her brother from the gambling he was conducting with the servants in the coat closet.

     Alice is smitten but knows her social and familial standing is not adequate for the likes of Arthur. Nevertheless, she runs into him on the streets of the town and allows him to walk her home while she again runs her mouth about fanciful things. When they reach her house, Alice tries to walk on by to disguise her shabby dwelling, but the mailman gives her away. Arthur is utterly unphased by any embarrassment Alice thinks she has suffered before him and asks if he may come around some night, to which the girl agrees.

     The flowers wilt in their vase as days pass and no Arthur appears. When he does make his debut, the house is in less than pristine condition in Alice’s eyes, so the two retire to the front porch. There Alice again spins yarns of a life not quite her own as she attempts to flirt and offer herself as a suitable mate for the socialite. This activity continues for weeks until finally Alice and her mother (Ann Shoemaker) agree it is time he came around for family dinner.

     As Alice has become ever more in love with Arthur, her mother has observed how the family’s financial difficulties negate her romantic efforts. Alice has not been invited to a dance because of her social standing, and must make an excuse as to why she cannot attend with Arthur. The Adams patriarch Virgil (Fred Stone) once developed with a partner a formula for a perfect glue. That partner died and the pharmacy owner took the formula with long-lost promises to produce it for the men. Mrs. Adams thinks Virgil should turn the discovery into a business to better support the family, but the man thinks doing so would betray the boss who has been so kind to him and his family. A final push by mother, and Virgil moves forward and sets up a factory.

     The night Arthur comes to dinner is near disaster with sweltering heat, a tardy brother and a hired maid who is inept with serving. When Arthur leaves, the pharmacist J.A. Lamb (Charley Grapewin) arrives to tell Virgil off about the glue formula. He says he is opening his own factory next to the Adams plant and intends to run him out of business. Sour words are exchanged, and Alice finally takes matters into her own hands. She explains why her father decided to open the factory and his true feelings of respect for the employer. Her properness falls away with every word as we see the true woman beneath. Arthur is unknowingly sitting on the porch and has heard the entire situation.

    The tragedy of Alice Adams is that the character shows very little of her true self. She is not a particularly masculine sort underneath, but she is far from the delicate flower she puts before Arthur time and time again. It is frustrating to believe Arthur could tolerate Alice’s fakeness and still be interested. The man theoretically should have seen through the mask, but he could not have known that what was beneath would be something he would like. The entire romance seems improbable from the start. When Arthur approaches looking for a dance, I was expecting the gesture to be a cruel joke.

     I cannot see myself ever watching Alice Adams again. Hepburn’s performance was great and MacMurray was thoroughly handsome and semi-romantic, but the whole flick set me on edge. Hepburn’s persona made me squirm because all I wanted to do is smack her and tell her to be herself. She doesn’t exactly set a good example for young women who think of themselves as socially inadequate.

Adam’s Rib

Ring a Ding Ding

Adam's Rib (1949)

     No one could have better played a powerful career woman in a devoted marriage better than Katharine Hepburn, and no one could have better held his ground as the spouse opposite that star than Spencer Tracy. Audiences loved seeing Hepburn and Tracy on the screen together, and Adam’s Rib lended what might have been a variation on their true relationship. Although the stars were never married, they maintained a relationship that endured until the end of Tracy’s life. Both meanwhile held down the same career, although one much more artistic than that of their lawyer characters here.

     Tracy plays Assistant District Attorney Adam Bonner who is assigned to the case of a woman who has shot and wounded her cheating husband. The attorney is none too keen on being assigned the case as his wife Amanda (Hepburn)  has spent all morning fixated on the related newspaper story and how a man would be treated differently for attacking an unfaithful spouse. Amanda has meanwhile gone out of her way to hunt down this shooter, Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday), in order to represent her pro bono. Amanda sees the case as a great chance to level the playing field between men and women under the law.

     Adam is immediately unhappy with the circumstances, and the couple and case become hot material for the newspapers and editorial cartoonists. The case becomes increasingly contentious between the two parties and begins to affect their life at home where Adam is unable to forgive Amanda’s ruthless courtroom activity. On top of everything, Amanda is visiting with a flirtatious neighbor friend (David Wayne) when Adam storms in to find the two embracing and threatens to shoot the two under the same circumstances as the case. The couple near divorce but will find a way to reconcile.

     While watching Adam’s Rib I had a hard time determining whether this was a drama or a comedy. The story is very serious but it is not without moments of humor. Many of those come from Holliday as the sort-of-dumb shooter whose emotions take the form of hunger more than any other state. Her disheveled life makes a great contrast to the once-pristine marriage of the Bonners. Her husband, played by Tom Ewell is plenty despicable and Jean Hagen as his mistress is equally intolerable.

     Tracy and Hepburn meanwhile have probably never been better; although one could say that of a lot of their collaborations. Despite middle age, the two act like lovers 10 or 20 years younger who flirt under the courtroom table or stick their tongues out at each other. The duo are so comfortable on screen, which is to be expected given this was the sixth of their nine MGM pictures together. The morning bedroom scene in which Tracy refuses to waken look like it could be a reflection of actual at-home life for the couple.

  • Adam’s Rib is set for 2:45 p.m. ET April 12 and 6:15 p.m. ET May 12 on TCM.

Keeper of the Flame

Wowza!

Keeper of the Flame (1942)

     In 1942, audiences going to see a Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movie surely expected to encounter some on-screen romance, but although Keeper of the Flame denied movie-goers of those light-hearted dramatics, it did pack a wallop otherwise. The movie had traces of the previous year’s stand-out film Citizen Kane but in large park harkened back to story elements found in 1939’s Rebecca.

     The film opens on a car speeding down a rainy forest road and ultimately taking a dive off a broken bridge. Next we are entreated to a slew of newspaper headlines shouting the death of the world’s most loved man, Robert Forrest. Reporters are in town for the funeral and among them is Tracy’s war correspondent Stephen O’Malley, who has returned to the U.S. especially for this story. He is not, however, interested in shooting out a quick piece on the funeral like his fellow reporters, but is instead after material for a book on the man’s life. To achieve this, however, he must interview Forrest’s wife, Christine (Hepburn), who has refused to take any visitors. Stephen sneaks onto the Forrest estate with the help of the gatekeeper’s boy (Darryl Hickman), who is distraught thinking he had caused his hero’s death by not being able to warn him the bridge was out. It is from here that we begin to suspect there is more to this story than a car accident.

     After walking into the house uninvited, Stephen gains a surprise audience of Christine, who throws him out. She is counseled by Forrest’s secretary, however, to talk to the man or else raise suspicion. Christine does invite the man back and promises to help him but is rather guarded and restricted in the information she provides. When Stephen notices an old armory on the property, the woman sneaks off to destroy all papers found therein.

     As the story progresses we are presented with more and more questions with no answers rising to the surface about any of them. This perfect man seems to have some dark secret –a MacGuffin of sorts– and the question of whether his death was murder floats about as we try to find motivation for such an act. Thankfully, Christine reveals the horrible secret that answers all questions at the film’s end, and it is a doozy.

     As I mentioned, I could not help but draw comparisons to Rebecca and Citizen Kane while enjoying Keeper of the Flame. Like the latter, it features the death of a public figure and the search into his life by a reporter. Like Rebecca, Forrest was an adored figure, the accident of whose death (in a storm) is somewhat in question. The story also offers a devoted spouse and staff and possible cousin-lovers, not to mention a small, mysterious building on the property.

     Despite its similarities to other great films, Keeper of the Flame stands on its own as a fantastic mystery. One finds it hard to keep track of all the questions that arise and so simply must go with the flow and have faith the answers will be spelled out plainly at the end. The compounding mysteries also make it difficult to even suspect who might have wanted Forrest dead and by what means made that happen. Even when Stephen finds what he knows to be the damning evidence that the accident was murder of a sort, we still do not fully know what it means. I cannot rave about Keeper of the Flame enough. It is a masterpiece, to be sure.

The MacGuffin: The motivation for Robert Forrest’s death/his secret. It is a MacGuffin because it does not really matter what it is, but it drives the entire plot of the movie.

Morning Glory

Gasser

Morning Glory (1933)

     I am a little puzzled by 1933’s Morning Glory. It was the source of Katharine Hepburn‘s first Oscar win, but the film itself is quite underwhelming and borderline bad. I also perceive this as something that had Hepburn done it later in her career, the Academy would not even have sniffed in her direction come awards season.

     Hepburn is Eva Lovelace, a young woman from a small town in Vermont who seeks a career on the New York stage. She received positive reviews in small productions at home and is highly convinced of her talents, if only she could get a break. Eva is also supremely talkative. She makes fast friends with an older actor while in the office of a Broadway producer and before he can get a work in edgewise demands he give her speaking lessons for free until she can afford to pay for them. This man, R.H. Hedges (C. Aubrey Smith) introduces the girl to the producer Louis Easton, played by Adolphe Menjou, and a playwriter Joseph Sheridan (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Before departing the office where she is told there are not parts for her, Eva walks right into Easton’s office and says her farewells to the bigwig and Joseph.

     We jump to some months later when Hedges finds Eva in a diner drinking coffee, clearly her only sustenance for the day. She’s wearing the same dress we saw before but claims that she has been in and out of work on the stage. Apparently, Easton had given her a try in a small role in which she failed “to make good.” Hedges ends up taking the young woman to a party at Easton’s home where guests are celebrating the successful debut of a play written by Joseph. At this party, Eva gets drunk before fatherly figures Easton and Hedges can get a plate of food to her and while out of sight from Joseph, who has clearly taken a shine to the girl. Once sauced, Eva pets Easton’s head, puts on two Shakespearean performances and passes out at the producer’s feet. A servant is instructed to put Eva in “the” bed.

     In the morning, Easton reveals to Joseph he has “gotten involved” with a girl and needs his pal to deliver a note or possibly an envelope of money to the dame. When Joseph learns the chick is Eva, he is upset and tells Easton of his feelings. Coming down from her slumber, the aspiring actress talks to Joseph about her ambitions for a happy, successful life with Easton before departing.

     Next up is a montage of some small-town productions to which Eva has been relegated because of her Broadway failures. Somehow, however, she has also been cast in a bit-part for Joseph’s new show. When the leading lady (Mary Duncan) makes severe contract demands before the curtain opens on the first show, she is ousted and Joseph puts Eva in, where she gives a roaringly good performance. The movie concludes with Hedges and Easton warning the girl not to be a “morning glory” that fades away quickly after coming into the spotlight. Joseph then declares his love, but Eva does not want it. The scene fades out on Eva yelling how she is not afraid to be a morning glory and will spend all her money on extravagant things.

     Hopefully I conveyed in my synopsis the sort of sloppiness of this story. Firstly, I found it bizarre how a Broadway producer would behave so caringly for some nobody actress, hundreds of which pass through his office daily. Most theater-based movies depict the lofty producer to which no one can get close enough for a chance. Here, Menjou comes off as a man unnaturally fatherly toward what seems to be a talentless child. Unlike most movies about girls looking to become stage stars, Eva does not show promise or make a smash right off, which makes it also unlikely that the characters would keep giving her chances or thinking she has something in her. As for the closing sequence with congratulations being overshadowed by stern warnings not to quickly become a has-been, well that was harsh. And Hepburn’s declaration that she will be frivolous with her fame is also a what-the-hell moment. The romantic plot with Fairbanks is also poorly conveyed. We know right off he will love Eva because that’s just what happens in these movies, but one never really feels like anything solid exists there.

     Morning Glory was Hepburn’s fourth film, although it was released with two others in her second year in Hollywood, so she did well to take an Oscar so early. She also won critical acclaim for Little Women and Christopher Strong that year. Her performance here is a good one and highlights how different she was from other actresses with her funny voice and unique face. There were only two other nominees in the Best Actress category this year, but because I have not seen Lady for a Day or Cavalcade, I cannot surmise why Hepburn might have beat out the other two. Hepburn certainly gave grander performances down the road that make Morning Glory look like nothing special, but as a new star on the scene, I can understand why Hollywood was mesmerised.

CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, Ohio)

For those of you who live in central Ohio as I do, you will be glad to hear CAPA has posted its lineup for this year’s Summer Movie Series. I have seen a lot of these but am always willing to rewatch something if it’s on the big screen.

I’ll definitely be seeing Hitchcock’s Frenzy as I’ve been meaning to give that another chance. Other must sees if you haven’t already include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Grapes of Wrath, High Noon, Bringing Up Baby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Big Sleep.

Sadly, no Audrey Hepburn movie this year as there usually is. For those who have not experienced a favorite or classic movie on the big screen in a theater full of people who love the movie as much as you, it really is a memorable experience. I recommend it.

Without Love

Gasser

Without Love (1945)

I find it difficult to picture a world in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy persist together “without love”, but that is precisely what their third film together asked audiences to do, although they were expected to hope for it.

    After appearing in Woman of the Year in 1942, audiences were hooked on the pairing and the stars themselves grew addicted to one another. They would remain so for the rest of their lives through nine films and Tracy’s marriage that could not be dissolved because of his strict Catholic beliefs. When theater-goers proved less thrilled by the unromantic The Keeper of the Flame also released in 1942, Hollywood producers came to their senses and returned the actors to the genre in which they were best received for Without Love.

     Military scientist Pat Jameson (Tracy) finds himself the caretaker of a mansion belonging to Jamie Rowan (Hepburn). Jamie is not convinced at first that Pat and his dog Dizzy are suitable for the joint but she is persuaded both because her scientist father was friends with Pat’s father and because he is working to perfect a oxygen mask for Air Force pilots flying at high altitudes. In getting to know each other, the duo have explained their respective reasons for never wanting love in their lives again: Pat was hurt by a selfish woman in France and Jamie’s ideal husband died in an accident two years into their marriage. Since she finds her life meaningless, Jamie proposes the two get married so she can work as Pat’s assistant. The union would be strictly businesslike however and strictly without love.

     On their wedding night, Pat’s somnambulism gets the best of him, however, and he sleep walks right into Jamie’s bed, much to her shock and disapproval. After that hiccup, however, the marriage runs smoothly. Friends and family, however, have started to notice the absence of passion in the relationship, so a neighbor who previously made advances toward Jamie inches his way in. The couple has a row while they are in Chicago offering up the finalized oxygen mask because Pat’s ex is in town and wanting to see the man. Jamie returns home and starts an affair with the neighbor while Pat checks in with Lila. Pat comes home as both halves of the marriage discover jealousy the necessary spark to ignite the flame of love, and the Jamesons restart their companionship properly.

     Adding to the cast are Lucille Ball as Jamie’s business manager of sorts and Keenan Wynn as Jamie’s cousin. Given a childhood of “I Love Lucy” episodes as my Ball baseline, I found the younger actress here elegant and beautifully spoken. Wynn was also younger and less gruff in voice than I am accustomed to, and their characters are quite charming in their side-story romance. Wynn was a fabulous character actor well suited in both comedies and dramas who has about 150 movies to his credit. Hepburn and Tracy are their usual great selves as well, but I would not call Without Love any great achievement, just another on the list of their collaborations.

  • Without Love is set for 10:15 a.m. ET June 15 on TCM.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

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