things that are awesome :: Katharine Hepburn films

Each week The Bumbles Blog posts a movie-themed question that always makes me think a bit but rarely stirs enough to create a full blog post in response. But this week… oh, this week I have to respond. The topic is: Share your favorite moments, memories or films featuring Katharine Hepburn. Since the Great Kate is my all-time favorite actress, it’s imperative that I expound upon it.

To the best of my memory, my introduction to Katharine Hepburn came in 1981 with On Golden Pond. I was a mere 12 years old when I saw the film with my parents at the cinema, and I had yet to discover Ms. Hepburn in films but was well-aware of her legend. I knew Jane Fonda very well by then, and was more familiar with Henry Fonda than Hepburn, but I remember that Kate intrigued me with her character’s sunny disposition and with her own innate grace. It would be a few more years before I discovered Hepburn’s true greatness and had a chance to dive into her body of work, but I remembered her name and her face (and her distinctive voice and signature style) from the moment I first saw her.

Still, it was The Philadelphia Story that sealed my great love for Kate. I hadn’t yet latched onto classic films as the greatest love of my entertainment life (TCM hadn’t launched yet), but I was watching an episode of thirtysomething and became utterly intrigued when The Philadelphia Story was used as part of the plot. By that time I was a huge fan of Jimmy Stewart, having been charmed by him for many years already, and the few clips of the film that aired during thirtysomething were so enchanting that I knew I had to rent it immediately. It took less than 10 minutes for me to fall head over heels for both Hepburn and Cary Grant, whom I wasn’t yet familiar with either, and by the end of this first viewing I knew I’d become a lifelong fan of all three stars. The Philadelphia Story changed my opinion of “old” films, and I daresay it made me a fan of classic cinema. It wasn’t long after that I first saw It’s a Wonderful Life, as well, and my general love of movies became a great love of film and film history. And though I’ve seen many, many films from the Golden Age of Hollywood (and beyond), no actor has ever compared to Katharine Hepburn in my mind. Only one comes close — that being Cate Blanchett — but none can ever surpass the first Kate’s greatness. I read her autobiography a few years ago, and even in her real voice about her own life (and generally no-holds-barred), Kate Hepburn has never ceased to amaze and charm me. She was definitely one of a kind.

And so, in order of my love for them, the following are my favorite films featuring Katharine Hepburn. I’ve yet to see even a third of her filmography, but I look forward to expanding this list throughout the course of my life.

The Philadelphia Story
The Philadelphia Story
Hepburn is Tracy Lord, a wealthy socialite preparing for her second marriage, who is being shadowed on the eve of her wedding by two tabloid journalists (played by Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey). Tracy’s ex-husband (Cary Grant) also shows up, and a delightfully screwball comedy ensues wherein Tracy realizes she still has feelings for her first husband and is also developing new feelings for Stewart’s reporter. The film is funny and heartwarming and features layered performances by all of its stars.
Bringing Up Baby
Bringing Up Baby
Hepburn and Grant are teamed again in this silly little comedy involving a fossilized dinosaur bone, a pet leopard named Baby, a one-sided infatuation, and a case of mistaken identity. The premise of the film is truly ridiculous, but the performances of Hepburn and Grant (as well as the deft directing of Howard Hawks) redeem any flaws to make this film hilarious in every way. Bringing Up Baby also features my all-time favorite Hepburn movie quote, spoken as she limped along with one heel broken off her high-heeled shoes: “I was born on the side of a hill. I was born on the side of a hill.” Makes me laugh every time I think of it!
Without Love
Without Love
It took me a long, long time to appreciate Spencer Tracy, but it was Without Love that finally brought me around. He is utterly charming as a brilliant scientist working on a classified project for the military during World War II, and his interactions with Hepburn are so subtle and understated that I began to really root for their characters and forget about their real-life romance. Hepburn plays a widow attempting to begin her life anew when she finds that Tracy has finagled himself into her empty house and made it his home base. He manages to charm her into letting him stay, and in turn she begins to serve as his assistant on the project. After a while they decide that it would benefit them both to get married but vow to remain unemotional about the entire business. The charm of the film comes in the many ways they try to remain platonic in their relationship and avoid falling in love. (You can read my original thoughts on the film here.)
Stage Door
Stage Door
In a New York City boarding house, an eclectic mix of aspiring actresses live together (and often compete) while attempting to break into the theatre business on Broadway. Each woman has a particular dream, each woman has a string of disappointments, and each woman has a personality that sets her apart from her peers. The cast of this 1937 film is incredible, including Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden and a young Lucille Ball, but Katharine Hepburn is especially memorable as (yet another) wealthy society darling who seeks to develop a career without her family’s connections. Hepburn plays her character of Terry Randall as arrogant and entitled but also fearful and insecure. What makes Stage Door so enchanting is the interaction between the women and the cacophonous rhythm of the film. I still think about various scenes months and months after seeing it for the first time. (Read my original thoughts on the film here.)
Honorable Mention to The African Queen
The African Queen
Hepburn plays a prim and snooty English missionary who must rely on a boorish steamboat captain (Humphrey Bogart) to transport her out of Eastern Africa when World War I finally reaches her region. Along the way, she convinces the captain to put his small craft to good use and contribute to the British war effort by attacking a German warship with their own constructed torpedo. It would be incredibly zany if not for the two lead actors, whose chemistry is delightful in this film and who each have such high regard for the other. Hepburn wrote an entire book about the experience of making The African Queen and their interaction on screen is enhanced by the journey they took together behind the scenes. It’s a beautiful film, brilliantly directed by John Huston, and it is fully anchored by Hepburn and Bogart, with most of the film being nothing more than the two of them in concerted discourse. There was a time when I thought the film to be tedious and very, very long, but upon successive viewings I’ve come to recognize how enchanting it really is. It’s also one of the first films that helped me understand what women saw in Humphrey Bogart. I know… it should’ve been Casablanca that did that, but it was Hepburn’s interaction with him in The African Queen that finally made him endearing to me, as well. This film was the first time I started to understand his magnetism, and I’ll always believe I have Ms. Hepburn to thank for that.

About Jules Q

sharing stories of life, faith, and love for pop culture

Posted on 9 May 2011, in What I Watch and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I loved your personal tour here of Hepburn through your life. Glad my topic inspired such a fun journey!


    • I absolutely adored this week’s movie topic, and I thank you very much for the opportunity to write about her! I’ve always intended to do a post like that but somehow just let it fall off my radar. I’m so happy you do the Monday Meme to remind me of things. Keep ’em coming!


  2. stacybuckeye

    We share the same favorite. LOVE that movie. I haven’t seen the last two, but will as I work my way through her movies. I totally agree with you about The African Queen being the movie that showed Humphrey’s magnetism. I didn’t see it in Casablanca either 🙂
    Thanks for adding your reviews to so many of my movie reviews, that’s $29 for charity. And it could be the charity of your choice. You are the leader with 69 in so far.


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