Hepburn Steps Out Of Her Class
Small Towns Get A Skewering in Alice Adams (1935)
Threshold problem here was me not sympathizing at all with Hepburn's title character. But was it Alice or the actress playing her? Back we come to reality of some people (many?) being unable to abide Hepburn in any capacity. I'm not quite there, for liking Morning Glory, Holiday, and some of ones with
Stevens brought comic sensibilities from Hal Roach to this first high-profile feature assignment. There is sight gagging, "comedy of embarrassment" (unbearable at times), and good luck charm that was Grady Sutton, a Stevens associate from the old "Boy Friends" series at Roach. We get nice sense of small community, but citizenry is dealt with harsh, potshot taken at snobbery, would-be class climbing, and general Babbittry of townfolk you'd not want to live among. A realistic touch: Everywhere it's hot --- inside and out of houses --- dinner wilting even as it's served. We forget what it was like before homes had central air, to which Alice Adams is valued wake-up. There's also arguments street-heard from households, because in those days, people kept windows open (had to --- the heat) and so risked private lives broadcast when shouting started.
Touches like this breathe life into Alice Adams, which according to Stevens in later interviews, had Tarkington dialogue transposed onto the script by director and star as shooting proceeded. Stevens also noted class divisions and have vs. have not as big issues of the time, this being overlay to Depression backdrop. Parents were as concerned as daughters over style of dress for school, hand-me-downs and even home-made clothing a reflection of status (or lack) that a family would have in close-knit towns. There were parties --- some high schools had sororities --- that could make or break girls not yet seventeen. Alice Adams may date, in fact probably did within short years after 1935, but stood pretty accurate for its initial audience, judging by critical success and grosses earned.
AA's third act set-piece is a dinner that goes horribly wrong. Want a twenty minute cringe? Watch this. Everyone is grindingly insincere and trying to be something they're not. Was it so much harder being oneself in the face of Depression, class division, and struggle to fit in? A popular 30's expression was "Oh, Be Yourself." You wish characters would use it on each other here. It's hard to believe life and people had to play-act to such extent, yet Stevens said later that indeed they did, Tarkington's novel being no mere invention of the author's. BT popularity wasn't random --- readers must have felt his novels spoke to true life. Question then, is Tarkington still read, and how's he rated by literary historian/experts? There's a DVD of Alice Adams available, but do note recent showing on TCM in true HD, where I caught it last month.