February 18, 2014

Alice Adams

One of the great awkward dinner scenes occurs near the end of Alice Adams (1935), a plucky Depression-era society drama about a dreamy but poor girl (Katharine Hepburn, whose performance embodies the intelligent side of sunniness) who's in love with a man (Fred MacMurray) from a well-to-do family. That dinner scene is the climax of all the work Alice has done in the movie to appear to have more money and breeding and class than she actually has. She flutters around messing with the furniture in preparing for the dinner, hoping he won't notice how old it is, and when her gentleman caller does come, she makes nervous jokes about her family's obvious deficiencies of income, hoping he'll be enchanted. She spends much of the film trying to simply cover up their lack of money, but nobody ever buys it, and what's more, she never gives anyone a chance to be unsnobbish (especially Fred MacMurray, who never gives her any indication that he even cares about her station). Alice Adams is somewhat dull now, but the performances still work. That scene when Mr. Adams' boss shows up and Alice convinces him to give her father a second chance is quite affecting.

It would be hard to imagine Katharine Hepburn ever being poor, especially considering her own New England background and all the parts for which she would later become known, but she plays Alice as a girl who has made an effort to become someone, to cultivate a mind and a personality and good taste, despite any setbacks of her provincial upbringing. That makes her believable. I really enjoyed the relationship between Alice and her brother Walter (Frank Albertson), who keeps getting roped into her schemes. He's a comical and a refreshing presence in a film that's mostly concerned with the petty problems of class warfare. Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington. With Fred Stone, Evelyn Venable, Ann Shoemaker, Charles Grapewin, and Hattie McDaniel. Directed by George Stevens.

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