Thursday, January 26, 2006

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Pauline Kael

In 1968, about Hepburn in The Lion in Winter, Kael wrote:

"....Bette Davis... [and]... Katharine Hepburn... [t]he two great heroines of American talkies, the two who dared to play smart women (who had to), the two most specifically modern of women stars--the tough, emabattled Davis and the headstrong, noble Hepburn--have both gone soft on us, have become everything we admired them for not being. They had been independent enough to fight the studios, but they have given in to themselves. The public has got them at last as it always wanted them. They have become old dears--a little crotchety, maybe, but that only makes them more harmlessly lovable. And though, of course, we can't help prizing them still--because what they once meant to us is too important a part of our lives to be relinquished--there's a feeling of dismay, and even of betrayal, when we watch them now....

"There were occasions in the past when Hepburn had poor roles and was tremulous and affected--almost a caricature of quivering sensitivity. But at her best--in the archetypal Hepburn role as the tomboy Linda in "Holiday," in 1938--her wit and noncorformity made ordinary heroines seem mushy, and her angular beauty made the round-faced ingenues look piggy and stupid. She was hard where they were soft--in both head and body. (As Spencer Tracy said, in the Brooklyn accetn he used in "Pat and Mike," "There's not much meat on her, but what's there is cherce.") Other actresses could be weak and helpless, but Davis and Hepburn had too much vitality. Unlike Davis, Hepburn was limited to mandarin roles.... Hepburn has always been inconceivable as a coarse-minded character; her bones are too fine, her diction is too crisp, she wears clothes too elegantly. And she has always been too individualistic, too singular, for common emotions. Other actresses who played career girls, like Crawford, could cop out in their roles by getting pregnant, or just by turning emotional--all womanly and ghastly. Hepburn was too hard for that, and so one could go to see her knowing that she wouldn't deteriorate into a conventional heroine; that didn't suit her style... Eleanor of Aquitaine... might have been a good role for the brittle high priestess of modernism is she had still held her own....

"....When actresses begin to use our knowledge abou them and of how young and beautiful they used to be--"

reprinted in Going Steady