November 17, 2013

Katharine Hepburn, Little Women

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Won: Gold Medal Winner for Best Actress - Venice Film Festival

"As vital, sympathetic and full of the joie de vivre as one could hope for...Miss Hepburn goes darting through this picture without giving one a moment to think of her as other than Jo," praised Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times at the time of Little Women's release. Trusty ol' Wikipedia says joie de vivre "may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life..." This is a more than accurate assessment of Katharine Hepburn, whose luminosity spearheads Little Women and whose performance is just as joyous if not more than that of her role as Eva in Morning Glory.

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As I had mentioned earlier, it's peculiar that Hepburn managed a nomination for Morning Glory, which was only a moderate success and a picture that The New York Times wasn't as enthused about, over her work in Little Women, which placed third in the votes for Best Picture. In hindsight, this helps us to better understand why she'd won that year, despite not being the most popular actress amongst her peers--Kate had had a banner year, what with these two features and her lead role in Christopher Strong, another piece of work in which she was praised, and called by Hall "an American Greta Garbo". So it seems that 1933 was to Hepburn as 2011 was to Jessica Chastain--she had made a splash in Hollywood and was young and pretty (though it seems Oscar now requires that a pretty starlet be in the biz a little longer and prove themselves a little more before they are able to strike gold). My best guess is that this was similar to the Kate Winslet scenario of 2008--more than one performance was available to be nominated, to which voters were beside themselves in confusion and ended up nom'ing the lesser performance.

 photo ScreenShot2013-10-04at62235PM.jpgKate is the heart of Little Women. Initially I had my qualms about the film--in my mind this was merely a sappy tale that couldn't possibly offer that many opportunities for heavy acting--but I was wrong! Jo March's tomboyishness makes this a role that fits Kate like a glove. She seems to be right at home the way she childishly jumps and runs around with Douglass Montgomery's Laurie, the way she frequently yells "Christopher Columbus!", the way she and costars stage that ridiculous's all very believable given that Hepburn was a 26 year old woman masquerading as a 15 year old girl at the time. But Kate infuses Jo with an energy that's so infectious, and though she has moments as young Jo that feel a little uncomfortable, Kate does a graceful job at portraying Jo's gradual maturity into womanhood. Jo runs a gamut of emotions throughout the film, and some of her best moments come as the sisters start to grow up. The scene in which Jo prays for her sister's life is haunting, and should have secured her a nomination on its own. I was impressed by how Kate seems to know the camera so well, despite Little Women only being her fourth feature and despite her sketchy past on the stage. She may not have been nominated for this film, but we can always pretend that she won for it anyways, a la Janet Gaynor during Oscar's inaugural year, right? Nevertheless, this and Morning Glory together are a perfect one-two punch and I'm sure everyone in 1933 knew from watching these films that a legitimate star was born.

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