Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Alice Adams (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

ALICE ADAMS (1935), starring Katharine Hepburn in the title role, was released on DVD over a decade ago but has been out of print. This key Hepburn film has just been reissued by the Warner Archive.

The film is based on a novel by Booth Tarkington, which was just published in a new edition in the Vintage Movie Classics series.

Alice is a girl almost from the wrong side of the tracks, or at least that's how she sees herself -- she has enough of a social "in" to be invited to a party by wealthy Mildred Palmer (the lovely Evelyn Venable), yet she can't afford things like a new dress for a dance or even a small corsage. Alice's family home is comfortable, yet it can't compare to Mildred's mansion.

Alice has an admirable stiff upper lip, whether picking a bouquet of violets to take to the dance or encouraging her ill father (Fred Stone), and she has a lovely moment where she stands up for her father with his employer (Charley Grapewin).

However, Alice is also an awkward social misfit in ways which go beyond money and class differences. In her anxiety to fit in she acts like a phony, yet despite her flighty chattering, wealthy young Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray) is completely smitten with her. Arthur is Alice's dream come true -- he's not only handsome and interested in her, but he has the money which would allow her to rise above her family's humble lifestyle.

I loved a comment I read at Film Experience, which said that "One of the peculiar charms of the movie and of Kate & Fred's scenes together is that Alice is so busy trying to impress him that she never notices her own success; he's besotted from the start."

Indeed, Alice seems to almost sabotage her success with Arthur. In the few moments when she's quiet and "real," one can understand what Arthur sees in her. Hepburn nails the character in a multilayered performance, but much of the time Alice is so afraid to be herself that it's painful to watch. I found myself alternating between sympathetic pity and outright embarrassment for her, wanting to avert my eyes or tell her to calm down.

Fred MacMurray makes the movie work, as he plays a decent and charming young man who not only reassures Alice, but the audience. ALICE ADAMS was one of the handsome MacMurray's first major roles, and he's wonderful, whether he's watching babbling Alice through adoring eyes or politely making his way through an awkward roast beef dinner on a sweltering night.

ALICE ADAMS was directed by George Stevens, his first major "A" level film after years of work on lesser projects. It was filmed by Robert De Grasse and scored by longtime RKO composer Roy Webb. It runs 99 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Frank Albertson, Hattie McDaniel (billed McDaniels), Ann Shoemaker, Grady Sutton, Jonathan Hale, and Hedda Hopper.

The Warner Archive DVD is a fine print, and as an added bonus it includes an excerpt from the documentary GEORGE STEVENS: A FILMMAKER'S JOURNEY which was on the original DVD release. The DVD also includes the original DVD's menu of scene selections.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

6 Comments:

OpenID shadowsandsatin said...

Enjoyed your write-up, Laura! I love this movie -- Hepburn is wonderful and in the scene of the big dinner,Hattie McDaniel is a positive scream. Have you read the book? It ends differently than the film, but I like the movie ending better.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Karen! I agree, Hattie McDaniel, with her chewing gum and limp maid's cap, is quite funny. McDaniel was a gem.

I haven't read the book yet, that's very interesting! In the documentary excerpt it mentioned that Hepburn and Stevens wanted the film to have a more "realistic" ending -- it didn't say but perhaps they wanted the one from the book?

Thanks for stopping by!

Best wishes,
Luara

6:42 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

This is great: "Hepburn nails the character in a multilayered performance, but much of the time Alice is so afraid to be herself that it's painful to watch. I found myself alternating between sympathetic pity and outright embarrassment for her, wanting to avert my eyes or tell her to calm down."

Really expresses the power of the film and Hepburn's performance.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

This is a wonderful movie. Hepburn is excellent and I don't think she was ever more beautiful. As a matter of fact, she's so good-looking that I think it threatens to work against the movie. I found it hard to believe that, even with her incessant chatter, Fred was her only suitor. A woman who looked like that--however flighty and awkward -- would have had men lined up around the block.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for your feedback, Jacqueline! I appreciate it. :)

Rick, very interested in your take on Hepburn here. I agree she is really quite lovely in this, though I found myself cringing so frequently that it was hard for me to look past that at times. It's thus good to have the perspective of a male viewer about Hepburn's appeal in the part.

Best wishes,
Laura

9:53 AM  
Blogger Ruth @ The Counterfeit Writer said...

Great review! I watched "Alice Adams" several years ago, but it sticks in the memory. Like you, I found myself cringing all the way through for poor Alice. Her character reminds me a little of myself as a high schooler, too, so maybe it was extra painful!

4:37 PM  

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