March 1, 2015

Katharine Hepburn, Woman of the Year

as TESS HARDING
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I'm indifferent about Woman of the Year. Again, let's take out the classic argument that it hasn't "aged well", because it hasn't really. It's primitive in its moral-fiber and I personally found it to be too silly and slightly insulting towards women. But what can you do? This was the film that brought us the legendary coupling of Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and you'd have to be blind not to see the literal sparks that shoot out of their eyes when they glance at each other in the picture. But at the end of the day Hepburn, in all her virile flirty glory, can't make gold out of lead. It's just too much of a subpar romantic comedy, with not much to offer either actor.

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It's kind of funky seeing Kate so at ease and sultry in the way she handles herself around Tracy during the film's earliest scenes. Kate may be a great many things, but I had yet to use to adjective "sexy" as a way to describe her, but here she is, purring out her lines with come-hither undertones, sexy as I imagine she could be on the silver screen. So in that sense you get the feeling that because Kate and Spence were so obviously into each other at the time that this would be Kate at her most natural and uninhibited thus far. And to a degree I do think that that's what makes the film special to watch. However, Woman of the Year is too old-fashioned for my tastes, and I think Kate suffers most for it. It's grossly ironic that we get to see Kate dig her teeth into this powerful "modern", outspoken woman, a feminist figure of sorts, only to then see her disintegrate into a bumbling mess who is ready and willing to quit her job and devote herself to being the perfect domesticated wife. The line in the film in which Tracy tells Hepburn that she is no "woman" because of her modernity is sort of a slap in the face not only to who Hepburn is in real life but for fans who adore seeing that strong female figure from her. What I found most unfortunate about this performance however was that there's not much there to care about. She's a nice headstrong lady early on sure, but there's not anything special there--she is granted Alice Adams' vulnerability, Tracy Lord's mix of humor and broken pride, or Susan Vance's floaty halfwittedness. She kind of just pops up, barks out some of her beliefs, has an a-ha moment where she realizes she needs to be a good wife, and then sets off to...be a good wife, with not much humor or glue to piece these aspects of Tess together. It's a meh performance in a meh film, a nomination she got likely because the picture was such a big hit. I just wasn't huge on it as the performance lacks that special Hepburn quality which makes it amazing.


2 comments:

  1. I've read this isn't a favorite among many fans because of its predictable MGM ending which has Hepburn 'tamed and installed' in the kitchen. It's important in the canon of both stars because this is as young and glamorous as they'll ever look together, Hepburn still free of any brittleness and Tracy not yet bloated by his lifelong drinking.

    I think the two stars do as well as can be expected in a script that still clings quite strongly to the religion of the double standard, and I like the low-key playing of Minor Watson and Fay Bainter in the supporting roles, but I'd never elect Tess Harding above Charlotte Vale, nor even imagine her overtaking Kay Miniver.

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    1. P.S. Then there's those two pieces of folklore that have followed the film.

      One has Hepburn noting to (?) writer Ring Lardner, "I'm afraid I may be a bit tall for Mr. Tracy," which prompts the response, "Don't worry, he'll cut you down to size."

      The other has a production hand subtly suggesting to Tracy, that given the story's title it might be gallant to let the lady's name go first in the billing, to which Tracy is reported to have replied, "This is a movie, chowderhead, not a lifeboat."

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