Category: 1942

 One of the key questions that any real movie buff eventually has to answer is Audrey or Katharine Hepburn? Do you want Audrey’s grace and elegance or Katharine’s fire and intensity? While I without a doubt feel that Audrey was more beautiful than Katharine, I would choose Katharine without even having to think about it. She is one of cinema’s earliest and most influential feminist figures and she brings a certain wit and feistiness to every role she plays. I just finished 1942’s Woman of the Year which she starred in with her long time love Spencer Tracy, and while the movie was kind of boring and slow, it re-affirmed my love of Katharine Hepburn.

Woman of the Year is a romantic comedy about two journalists, Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy) and Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn). Sam is an old-fashioned sports journalist while Tess is a fiery leader of the feminist movement and one of the paper’s political columnists. When Tess insults our national past time on national radio, a war of words begins between Sam and Tess in the op-ed pages of their newspaper which ultimately blooms into romance and then marriage. The conflict of the film rests in Sam’s desire for a normal quiet life against Tess’s ambition and career.

Films that are often scandalous or controversial for their time really tend to age poorly 70 years later. This film is a perfect example of why. When Katharine Hepburn first burst on the scene, she was a non-stop controversy machine. She smoked. She drank men’s alcoholic drinks. She’d show her legs. She wore pants (for shame!). The character of Tess is very sexually aggressive towards Sam. I’m sure this was boundary-pushing material in 1942 but when most of the story rests on the shock of some of the gender reversing nature of her role, the film loses a lot of its impact when that isn’t shocking anymore. Thank god that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn had such great chemistry and that Tracy could evoke so much emotion with just a raise of his eye-brows or a smirk. This was my first Spencer Tracy film and he seems like a pretty good actor.

There was one scene in the film that actually had me in stitches laughing where Tess tries her hand at cooking and causes an enormous disaster. Otherwise, it was a terribly dull film that I could never really get into. If you like Katharine Hepburn or Spencer Tracy, you should check it out. She was nominated for an Oscar for this one and the movie won a screenplay Oscar. I’m probably not going to be re-watching this movie again anytime in the near future though.

 Final Score: B-

If we disregard the fact that I’ve already reviewed two Fellini pictures as being the first time this happened, then I suddenly feel that this blog has somehow made a little circle in a strange but interesting way. In one of the first films that I reviewed, Gosford Park, Bob Balaban’s character was a Hollywood producer making a new Charlie Chan film and in the role of the maid, he was interested in casting Claudette Colbert. He was very concerned as to whether she was “British or just affected”. Well, in the film I just watched, The Palm Beach Story, Claudette Colbert was one of the stars. I just wish my blog could have done this little trick in a film that I enjoyed more than this one.

The film follows the story of Gerry Jeffers (Colbert) and her husband Tom (Joel McRae). Tom is a failing architect and they are about to get kicked out of their apartment for not being able to pay the rent. Gerry comes up with a rather novel idea. She’s going to divorce Gerry and move to Palm Beach so that she can meet a wealthy man and marry him for his money so that she can support Tom. She finally meets this wealthy man in the form of John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), one of the richest men in the world, along with his trampy sister, the Princess Centimillia.

The concept of the film is actually pretty funny. And I was hoping that I would enjoy this film more. Unfortunately, it just isn’t particulary funny for the vast majority of the film. There’s a hell of a lot of talking but no one is saying anything funny. However, the film is saved from utter mediocrity by a couple of scenes that are just absolutely hilarious, especially the scene on a train where a group of rich men in a hunting club get extremely drunk and start shooting their shotguns and forming a posse on the train. It was just so absurd that it was hilarious. Also, Rudy Vallee is a delight as the rich billionaire. There was just something very understated and dry about his performance. I could care less about her acting but Claudette Colbert herself is a knock out. One last complaint about the film. There are some African-American characters in the film. And lordy was their presentation just absolutely, ridiculously racist. For a minute, I thought I had put in The Birth of a Nation or Song of the South.

Final Score: C+