Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Unsympathetic Kate

TCM is airing The Philadelphia Story on February 28 at 11:00 AM ET. Katherine Hepburn plays socialite Tracy Lord who's two years divorced from C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), and is just about to get remarried. Until, that is, Dex returns the day before their marriage with a tabloid reporter (James Stewart, in the role that won him the Best Actor Oscar) in two, determined to break up the impending marriage. (But not with an ax, a la The Best Years of Our Lives.)

Hepburn is less than sympathetic in The Philadelphia Story, but I think a lot of that is due to the story. Lots of good movies need to have one or another of the characters be less than likeable; Broderick Crawford in Born Yesterday springs to mind. However, Hepburn comes across to me as unympathetic even in some of the movies where the writers tried to portray her as more likeable -- and even in some of those movies where there was no reason for her to be unsympathetic.

In a movie like Bringing Up Baby, you can argue that Hepburn shouldn't be sympathetic: after all, she's trying to break up Cary Gran't marriage again!

Then, there's The African Queen. Here, she really should be more likeable: her brother is killed at the beginning of the movie, and she's got to deal with an alcoholic Humphrey Bogart as the only person left to help her. She rightly tries to get him to help himself -- and yet, she's such a jerk about it. Perhaps it's because her character is, as a Christian missionary, supposed to be unbelievably ignorant -- but instead, Hepburn comes across as not the nicest person in the world.

Finally, there's Pat and Mike, which I mentioned recently. This one has absolutely no reason for the viewer to dislike her. In fact, in Pat and Mike, Hepburn's character is the one (well, except for Aldo Ray's) that we should like more than the rest: her fiancé is making her a nervous wreck, and Spencer Tracy is obviously exploiting her. Yet still, I just couldn't warm to her.

What is it about Katharine Hepburn that made her so tough to like?

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