Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 20 December 2010

1930s: Kate and Sylvia Scarlett

SYLVIA SCARLETT has the reputation of being one of the oddest films of the '30s and was such a disaster on its release that its perpetuators Cukor, Hepburn and producer Pandro S Berman never experimented on such a scale again. They must have thought they were being very clever at the time, but Hepburn was soon on that "box office poison" list along with the likes of Dietrich and others. Also odd to think that the sublime BRINGING UP BABY was also not popular initially, as Howard Hawks himself admitted it was just too screwy with everyone around the bend in it! Hepburn re-established herself with Cukor's witty HOLIDAY from the Philip Barry play, again with Grant, and in La Cava's STAGE DOOR, playing to her patrician persona, as she initially refused to rehearse with the other stage door gals Ginger Rogers et al. She then cleverly got Barry to create a new play for her which was a success on Broadway and she then sold the package to Louis B Mayer placing herself back at the top of the pile for the 1940s. That was of course PHILADELPHIA STORY, which to me is rather over-rated. Then of course came the first of those with Tracy, WOMAN OF THE YEAR in '42. (Below, Cary going gay in BRINGING UP BABY)

It was good to finally catch up with 1932's CHRISTOPHER STRONG a while back where she is the dashing aviatrix, but a lot of her other early films like QUALITY STREET, SPITFIRE or even Ford's MARY OF SCOTLAND are not really much on view these days (I am not even sure if they are on dvd) [it was of this era that Dorothy Parker famously said that Hepburn "ran the gamut of emotions from A to B", but she was certainly different from those other prettier ingenues, her Jo in the first LITTLE WOMEN was certainly well regarded]. But back to SYLVIA SCARLETT - this was an important movie for Cary Grant too, he and Hepburn strike sparks off each other and she looks amazing as a male - rather like a young David Bowie sometimes.

She was certainly lucky in always being financially independent - no cheap horror movies for her! Also in being off the screen since 1959's SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER to 67's GUESS WHO... only added to her legend. The 1962 LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT may have been among her best performances and won the cast acting awards at Venice, but it was an independent release not widely shown at the time, but thankfully is on dvd now. The very names of Hepburn's characters sum her up: Tracy Lord, Tess Harding, Susan Vance, Linda Seton, Rose Sawyer, Jane Hudson (no, not that one but in SUMMERTIME) Lean's 1955 film set in Venice was another hit, along with THE AFRICAN QUEEN, THE RAINMAKER and those late Tracys PAT AND MIKE and DESK SET and of course Violet Venable in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. She had a nice line in the '50s of these quivering spinsters on the brink of finding love.

We revered Hepburn all over again back in the 60s when I was in my early 20s - GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER had been the most enormous success (even if its sadly dated today) with Hepburn re-discovered for a new generation, being on the cover of LIFE magazine etc, and then the even bigger success of THE LION IN WINTER, a key film for 1968 where she is Eleanor of Aquitaine to the manner born, with as another best actress award, even if was shared with Streisand in that other big hit of '68 FUNNY GIRL. THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT which followed was less successful and I am going to catch up with THE TROJAN WOMEN shortly. Hepburn, like Davis, was now a living legend and soon teamed with the likes of Laurence Oliver and John Wayne, as well as that nice remake of THE CORN IN GREEN in Wales with Cukor in '78. Later television movies included pleasant enough fare like LAURA LANSING SLEPT HERE and MRS DELLAFIELD WANTS TO GET MARRIED as she got older. Suddenly Hepburn was everywhere, giving interviews in various documentaries - always with that red pullover over her shoulders - burnishing her legend giving us her version of her life and that romance with Tracy, including her own book "Me" a very selective view of herself. Lots of interesting new books on her too incuding some good picture books.The later Scot Berg and William K Mann books on her, after her death, painted other versions of her life and romances but only added to her legend and lustre. There was simply no-one else like her. Of American actresses perhaps only Davis had a comparable career - shame they could never agree to team up for at least a photoshoot. (Bette was willing, but Hepburn wouldn't). Another actress Hepburn did not get along with was Margaret Sullavan, subject of my next post .... Kate being perhaps too competitive with a rival? I got to see Bette up close in '72 but it must have been marvellous to have seen or met Hepburn - I love those '50s/60s shots of her striding on and off planes or dodging through hotel lobbies in her macs and khakis. At least New Yorkers got to see her on stage several times. She even did a musical: COCO (though Chanel thought they had meant Audrey to play her!)

Back in 1935 she and Cary and Brian Aherne etc were young and having fun playing games as they shot the quaint SYLVIA SCARLETT along the California coast, with their Cockney accents ... let's slip it into the projector and have another look.
SYLVIA SCARLETT is actually an intriguing failure due to its uneven tone - comedy or melodrama? - mixing in its crooked characters, travelling players, Hepburn posing as a boy, that odd relationship with Aherne and the other girl who fancies her/him, but Grant is maturing into "Cary Grant" and Hepburn is clearly having a field day, and her and Cary's pal Howard Hughes used to fly in to join them for lunch! but it is easy to see now why, in 1935, it would be such a failure: it's just too anomalous, too strange, too ambiguous.

Next: Margaret Sullavan and a Christmas treat: THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER

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