Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Must There Be a Morning Glory After?

Coming at a film like Lowell Sherman's Morning Glory and the central performance in it is all very confusing to do in 2008. Even having only a brief knowledge of Katharine Hepburn's subsequent career - such as I have - makes watching her first Oscar winning performance (and her third overall) frustrating. Hepburn had clearly not built up any particular earth-shattering goodwill that would make her win make sense in the general scheme of "here, have an Oscar because we like you too much". And yet, maybe the very fact that I have seen some of Hepburn's best work - I'm thinking The Philadelphia Story, Suddenly Last Summer, etc - that maybe, at the time, audiences and voters alike saw something in her performance that seems missing upon retrospect. As if having seen what Hepburn is capable of it seems quite like folly to even suggest that this a) is one of Hepburn's best performances and b) worthy of an Oscar. It's hard, too, to figure out just how she was nominated and won for a film like Morning Glory when she was so fine as Jo in Little Women from the same year. A film that was an Oscar winner in it's own right for Best Adapted Writing, and, considering its Best Director and Best Picture nominations, the far more popular and well-liked film.

Watching Morning Glory I couldn't help but want to tear my hair out. It is exactly the sort of "classic" film that I hate. It is neither appealing in its visuals nor inventive in the way it tells its rather boring story. That the film was based on a play is not surprising in the least considering the way Sherman and screenwriter Howard J Green structured the story. The first 50 minutes of Morning Glory's brief-but-not-brief-enough 74-minute running time are dedicated to a mere two scenes. The opening scene alone, set inside the casting office of a Broadway producer, runs for an unwieldy 30 minutes. Frightening.

The story as it was revolves around Hepburn's character of Eva Lovelace who has moved to New York City to make it big as an actor after moving from Franklin, Vermont. She makes nice with a writer who is played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr, my favourite performance of the film I might add, which later comes back to pay dividends once the star of a big new dramatic production, played by Mary Duncan, pulls out due to contractual disagreements. Duncan, clearly the sort of character than Dianne Weist had such delicious fun with in Bullets Over Broadway a whole 60 years later, is an awful little creature, isn't she?

The film's second act is definitely it’s strongest as Hepburn's character is broke and nearly run out of town after a string of failures. Upon getting drunk at a party Hepburn finally gets to do something that doesn't involve staring star struck or prancing about telling people how marvellous she is. That it involves reciting Shakespeare passages is both apt and unsurprising considering her character is such a boring and predictable wet blanket. The film could have had some interesting things to say about people who are so desperate to follow a particular endeavour, yet are not talented enough to do so. However, it quickly bypasses this possibly path for more Hepburn-plays-drunk chortles.

And to discuss Hepburn's performance is tough. It really is just hard to figure out what people saw in this performance. Maybe the voters were just as surprised that she was nominated for this and not Little Women that they gave her the statue to make up for the injustice. Hepburn's breathy and passive performance is just made of nothing. It's all cutesy stares and awkward fast vocal delivery. Her character is annoying in that way that so many characters of her type are in movies from this time period. How a man of Fairbanks' nature could fall for Hepburn is beyond me, least of all in the span of one day. Did people really fall in love so quickly back then or was it just a movie thing? They propose marriage within hours of knowing a person!

The end of the movie, however, proves to be the most problematic of all. They spend the entire movie telling us just how talented Eva Lovelace really is and then when we finally get a chance to witness it for ourselves, they skip out on us and then the movie ends with nary a climax to be seen or heard. It's a big build-up to nothing. It just ends. Was Morning Glory a quickie production for RKO Radio Pictures? It sure feels like it.

There is almost nothing positive I can say about this movie. It's just a complete waste of time. Nothing exciting, interesting or original happens. I could foretell everything that was going to happen down to the individual beats from the opening moments. It's fair to say that Morning Glory would barely scrape into the footnotes of cinema history if it weren't for the studio having the keen eye to cast Hepburn, which is probably the film's greatest claim of note. Yet, somehow, I reckon even if Hepburn hadn't have won the Oscar for this we would have still seen plenty of her in the decades to come. D

1 comment:

Dame James Henry said...

I didn't hate this one quite as much as you did (I gave it a C), but I agree that's nothing special. The Hepburn affectations we see here are old hat after her numerous greater performances later in the decade and all throughout her career, but, in 1933, they were so different to audiences used to Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford that they probably awarded her just for being "different." Although I also have no idea why they didn't go for her in Little Women- it's certainly a much better film.