Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Morning Glory (1933)

In only the third picture she would act in, the young Hollywood newcomer Katharine Hepburn would win so greatly the admiration of audiences and critics, that she would win her first Academy Award in what proved to be one of Hollywood’s longest and fruitful acting careers. Morning Glory provided the canvas for the determined performer to break beyond the bounds of conformed acting for a usual studio film with a role that was so similar to that of her own life. Like her character, Eva Lovelace, Hepburn was a girl raised from a well to do family in New England that willed herself into being a glorious acting success, setting aside many other joys that life may have to achieve that greatness. Despite this not being her only noteworthy role in the year 1933, it would be this role that earned her the first of her record four Oscars.

Morning Glory is a drama about a small town theater actress who has moved to New York trying to make it big acting on Broadway. Eva Lovelace (Hepburn), a plucky young actress from Vermont, finds her way to Manhattan’s Broadway hoping that her determination and spirit would allow her to make it big in the shining lights. At her first attempt at an audition, Eva meets three men that would play major roles in her future within the business: First a veteran English stage actor who now is dependent on bit roles through hard times, Bob Hedges (C. Aubrey Smith), who Eva will take as her personal acting coach. Secondly she forcibly meets stage writer Joseph Sheridan (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), who is taken by Lovelace’s determination and casts her in her first small role in his play. And thirdly Eva would meet producer Louis Easton (Adolphe Menjou), who would have a small affair with Lovelace as she is cast in play which he is producing. The breakthrough comes in an unconventional form as the play’s star, Rita Vernon (Mary Duncan), begins to make major demands on opening night and walks out on the production, spurring Sheridan to quickly fill the role with Eva as the play opens to a grand success, as does its new star. In triumph of her breakthrough it becomes clear that Eva will lose much of life’s other rewards in order to sustain her dream of stage success, casting away even the romance that is hinted at with Joseph, creating both a joyous and sorrowful moment.

This films creates a unique opportunity for myself in this cinematic journey I have set out for myself, as I have at this point neither seen many Hepburn pictures, nor consider myself at all a fan of the work I have seen her. So for me it is a fresh start with an actress and her body of work, making this the first film (in March Through Cinema History) I have viewed that starred her, as it would have been for many movie goers in that time as well. So with that in mind I will continue…

The picture is usual run of the mill, backstage drama story of an actress trying to make it in the business. Hepburn comes off at na├»ve and unwavering as she attempts to fulfill a dream. The character comes off a bit pretentious and annoying as she resolutely wills herself into situations that are not proper or successful to setting a first impression to those that would employ her. Despite not liking her, her strong will is commendable which does land her the first small role. But above all this work for both Hepburn and the character she plays the breakthrough moment is when Eva gets a little intoxicated and acts out Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with great drama and emotion. It is as if a light was turned on. Suddenly this person is no longer an inexperienced New England girl, but a woman of great emotion and an old soul. Beyond that, the scene is believable. You really no watch as this girl manifests her great skill as she drops her inhibitions and just acts. With that scene and the ending where Eva’s emotions splash on the screen through only her body language and facial reactions as she realizes what is to come to her, both good and bad, Hepburn jumped to another level few actresses would ever hope to achieve, helping her gain that first Academy Award for best actress.

Directed by one of RKO’s stock director, Lowell Sherman, there is nothing that has an overall “wow” feeling to it, but on the other hand, the directing also contains no negatives. Therefore, it can be concluded Sherman did a fine job, because some of the best directing is not having the directing noticed at all, but just being lost in the story. Sherman was an actor and director, providing two ways to make income while at the studio. His career would contain many credits, but are not well noted, and sadly would be cut short in 1934 when he passed away from pneumonia.

Fairbanks Jr. and Hepburn
Hepburn, being the star, would be flanked by some fine supporting actors in her first major hit. C. Aubrey Smith was a long time veteran of the stage and would have a great time in Hollywood in character roles for many years, as well as being one hell of a good cricketer. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., son of the world famous silent action movie star, provided a fine counterpart as a leading man to a romance that never flourishes.  Once again we see Adolphe Menjou, who plays a dramatic role as the producer, which helped drive the story. Keep in mind, that Menjou was an Academy Award nominated actor for his work in The Front Page in 1931, a fine name in his own right. Mary Duncan, who played the prima donna actress that walks out, would leave Hollywood after this picture, settling down into life of marriage after years of acting, starting from when she was a child into her mid-30s.

With the recognition from the Academy for Hepburn’s acting, the movie is considered a success. Movies at that time did not make the profits we see in motion pictures years later, as studios cranked out films like it was a factory. The success of the film would encourage RKO to produce a remake in 1958 called Stage Struck, starring Henry Fonda and Susan Strasberg. Two radio adaptations would be produced with big names attached as well; one in 1941 starring Judy Garland and a second 1948 starring Elizabeth Taylor. It was clear that this was a story RKO enjoyed going back to many times during the studio’s existence.

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