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Katharine Hepburn – from ‘box office poison’ to ‘greatest female star’ of hollywood

Katharine Hepburn – from ‘box office poison’ to ‘greatest female star’ of Hollywood.

written by Souranath Banerjee

After inquiring onto whom i am writing about today, one of my dear friend asked me ‘Did you mean Audrey Hepburn? I know Marilyn MonroeElizabeth Taylor, even Sophia Loren but who is Katharine Hepburn?’

Hepburn5Well, i don’t blame my friend since firstly he is not too much into Hollywood movies and secondly, lets face it – Katharine Hepburn’s visual image is not as popular as some of her contemporary heroines mentioned above.

Katharine Hepburn was neither a style-icon like Audrey Hepburn, nor a diva like Marilyn or a sexy siren like Elizabeth Taylor or Sofia Loren.

But undoubtedly she was one damn good actress!

A career that ran for more than six decades, in which she was nominated 12 times for the Oscars in the ‘Best Actress’ category and won 4 of them. This is the record maximum number of Oscars won by any performer (actor/actress) till date.

Hepburn4In 1999, Katharine Hepburn was named by the American Film Institute as the ‘greatest female star in Hollywood History’, beating popular actresses like Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman for the top spot.

Her career though began with initial success wasn’t all smooth and up-hill throughout her life.

Within a couple of years into Hollywood, Katharine won her first Oscar for her performance in Morning Glory (1933). It was her third film!

But then her career took a down fall and most of her films didn’t do well in the box-office. And on top of that she had problems with the press. She was too straightforward (often rude) to the reporters and the american audience didn’t seem to like her attitude. 

Hepburn-Stewart-posterEventually her unpopular image was blamed for most of her film’s failures and the Hollywood big-shot Production Houses reacted to it.

Katharine Hepburn was soon termed as the ‘box office poison’ and her film offers quickly dried out.

But it was certainly not the end of her career; far from it.

She planned her mega-comeback with the help of Howard Hughes (her partner at the time) who bought her the rights of the famous play The Philadelphia Story.

the-philadelphia-story-posterKatharine eventually sold the film-rights of the play to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on condition that she would be the star of the film. She also choose the director (George Cukor) and the stars Cary Grant and James Stewart.

In the film The Philadelphia Story (1940) she skillfully crafted her character so that the audience would laugh at her and eventually sympathize. And that’s exactly what happened!

The film became the top grossing movie of that year; she was nominated for the Oscars for her brilliant performance but more importantly she was welcomed back by the press and the audience.

lion-in-winter-posterAnd then there was no looking back for Hepburn. Throughout the 50s and the mid 60s she gave one hit after another – The African QueenSummertime, The RainmakerSuddenly, Last SummerLong Day’s Journey Into Night and many more. For most of these films she was nominated at the Oscars!

But her real success came in the late 60s when she bagged two back to back Oscars for the films Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968). She scooped another Oscar towards the end of her career for the film On Golden Pond (1981). 

Tracy-Hepburn-posterHepburn was a very private person, never liked to be bothered by reporters or her fans. Her twenty-seven years relationship with Spencer Tracy was kept a secret from the public for a long time!

Though married once early in her life Hepburn never had any children. She believed that motherhood to be a full-time commitment and said she was not ready for it.

She was claimed to be an headstrong person who was honest and blunt with her comments. She had great work ethics and was always enthusiastic about her projects.

Hepburn3Films, theaters, television – she kept herself busy with work till the last years of her life.

On June 29, 2003 when Katharine Hepburn died (at the age of 96), American president George W. Bush said Hepburn “will be remembered as one of the nation’s artistic treasures.” 

Her witty remarks were always impressive.

“I strike people as peculiar in some way, although I don’t quite understand why. Of course, I have an angular face, an angular body and, I suppose, an angular personality, which jabs into people.” 

PS – Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film The Aviator (2004) which was made on life of Howard HughesCate Blanchett‘s portrayed Katharine Hepburn. And that makes Cate the first performer to win an Oscar for playing a real-life Oscar Winner!

A few famous scenes from the film The Philadelphia Story.

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Best of Film Noir (Black Cinema)

Best of Film Noir.

Written by Souranath Banerjee.

Around 1946 Nino Frank, a French film critic first coined the term ‘Film Noir’ to define the series of stylized, high contrast black and white American films of that particular era.

Dark shadows, flickering neon signs, cheap urban settings, dingy alleys and backdoors, claustrophobic interiors, cynical looking men (mostly private detectives or street smart hustlers) wearing long overcoats drinking away, treacherous foxy women (femme fatales)  wearing a mask of innocence seducing away, corruption and betrayal, guns and murders, the certainty of unhappy endings and of course lots and lots of cigarettes. 

Enter the world of Film Noir (literal meaning ‘Black Cinema‘).

And here is a list of some of the best and most popular Film Noirs Hollywood ever produced.

1. The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phUxnXGhEiI

Maltese-Falcon-posterThis particular film directed by John Huston (his debut) is said to have started the trend and set the mood for the innumerable Film Noirs that dominated Hollywood for the next two decades.

A perfectly twisted murder mystery.

Humphrey Bogart with his crooked handsome looks and the trademark nasal tone soon became the most popular Film Noir star of that era. 

2. Double Indemnity (1944).

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3wjJcuGsVE

double-indemnity-posterDirected by one of my favorite director Billy Wilder, this film is remembered to be the ultimate Film Noir that ever existed!

Brilliant script with superbly corrupted characters full of lust and deceit. Fred MacMurrayBarbara StanwyckEdward G. Robinson at their best.

The film was nominated at the Oscars in se7en categories!

3. Laura (1944)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6f8jRplej8

laura-posterWith lots of flashbacks and surprise twists in the plot this film tells the mysterious story of a detective falling for the woman whose murder he is investigating!

Directed by Otto Preminger and superb performances by Gene TierneyClifton Webb and stunning Dana Andrews.

The film won Oscar in the best Cinematography category.

4. Mildred Pierce (1945)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjK97CqVqWA

mildred-pierce-posterGreat storytelling, brilliant acting, chilling suspense and also an unexpected twist in the end. Yes, it has all of these and much more.

Class performances by Joan CrawfordJack CarsonZachary ScottAnn Blyth.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, one of the best emotional Hollywood classics and of course a super cool Film Noir.

5. Notorious (1946).

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8f4UOtLf5Q

notorious-posterAlfred Hitchcock joins the Film Noir wagon and gives us one of the best of this genre.

This film is a classic tale of love and betrayal – of trust and deceit; a dangerous spy game with the risk of frightening consequences if ever get caught.

Starring Cary Grant and beautiful Ingrid Bergman, very romantic and probably the best spy film ever.

6. The Big Sleep (1946)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjJlBnfyiI4

big-sleep-posterOne of Humphrey Bogart‘s most famous performance and also a most prominent example of Film Noir.

Directed by the master director Howard Hawks this film plunges us into a whirlpool of darkness where blackmail and murder goes hand in hand. 

Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers all at their best in this gripping thriller.

7. The Third Man (1949)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjMDg1Z9_gA

The-Third-Man-posterWhen Joseph Cotten learns of his friend’s mysterious death he suspects foul play and is in search of the mysterious third man who might be present at the time of death.

One of the most popular member of this genre, the film is a perfect thriller with Orson Welles in one of his notorious performances.

Directed by Carol Reed the film is a classic by it’s own right.

8. The Big Heat (1953)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3XA5FEKIx4

big-heat-poster

With vengeance in his mind a cop goes after the city’s most dangerous crime syndicate.

A dirty game of politics and power  challenged by one man’s passion and a thirst for revenge; a film as brutal and vicious as it gets.

Directed by Fritz Lang (who specialized in such dark stories), with Glenn FordGloria Grahame and Jocelyn Brando playing their parts. 

9. The Night Of the Hunter (1955)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8dX6ZKJe2o

night-of-the-hunter-posterRobert Mitchum is determined to get his hands on some hidden money but the children won’t share their secret.

Directed by Charles Laughton this dark film has chilling moments of suspense.

Playing with shadows and silhouettes (the chiaroscuro
lighting technique) has always been an integral part of Film Noir but this one takes it to a different level.

10. The Killing (1956)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAe1CJWH_B8

killing-posterOne of Stanley Kubrick‘s earlier films and a perfect example of Film Noir.

Sterling HaydenColeen GrayVince Edwards playing their parts.

Classic drama full of tension and thrill, edited in a non-linear fashion.

This film is considered to be a huge influence on future non-linear films – the likes of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994).

11. Touch of Evil (1958)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-Oqn2hMp1M

touch-of-evil-posterPerformances by Charlton HestonJanet Leigh and Orson Welles – a thriller that is said to be the last of Hollywood’s favorite genre.

Directed by Orson Welles himself, it has kidnapping, corruption, murder and revenge. As the poster says – it is the story of the strangest vengeance that was ever planned!

A true classic to end the golden era of Film Noirs.

Even in the recent past a few films successfully managed to capture the nostalgia of the classic Film Noirs.

A few examples of such Neo-Noirs are The French Connection (1971), Chinatown (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), Blood Simple (1984), L.A.Confidential (1997), Blade Runner (1982), Memento (2000), Mulholland Drive (2001), A History of Violence (2005), Sin City (2005).

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My Favorites Of Alfred Hitchcock !! (10 + 1)

Best of Alfred Hitchcock.

written by Souranath Banerjee.

Hitchcock is the only director whose two films ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Foreign Correspondent’ were both nominated in the same year (1940) for the Oscars ‘Best Film’ category  – and of course ‘Rebecca’ won the award!

He himself at the 1967 Oscars delivered the shortest speech in the oscar history – he only said ‘Thank you’!

Directed more than 50 feature films, he is renowned as the ‘The Master of Suspense’.

Personally i am a huge fan and yes this time i have managed to list my favorites of Alfred Hitchcock films. If you enjoy murder-mystrey and thrillers – well, just stick to this list.

10. North by North West (1959)

north by northwest_poster

The ‘baap’ of all thrillers; speed, pace, tension gets a new meaning – a Hitchcock classic in every sense.

Cary Grant playing an advertising man is mistakenly kidnapped and framed for murder which he didn’t commit.

Before watching this film people had no clue that the crop-dusters in the lonely highways can be so effectively dangerous .

9. Strangers on a train (1951)

strangers on a train posterTwo complete strangers meet on a train and they soon cook up an unique idea to help each other by offering to – murder.

Crazy as it sounds the film is a stunner – brilliant performances, superb camera and the famous uneasy suspense for which Hitchcock is so renowned of.

Probably the most sinister plot ever filmed and made into such a successful thriller. Do watch the original classic version.

 

8. The Birds (1963)
The birds posterWhat happens if one fine morning the birds plan an attack on us?

They fly in flocks and strike viciously with the sole intent to kill the vulnerable humans.

A nightmare that Hitchcock managed to capture successfully and make a spine chilling film out of it. Scary is a too little word to define the experience of watching this classic.

 

7. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

the lady vanishes posterOne of Hitchcock’s best early works – a perfect mystery blended with a touch of romance in it.

An ordinary train journey where an old lady simply vanishes from her seat. The girl who happens to notice this strange disappearance finds it difficult to convince others – it seems  like she is the only one who misses the old woman. Mystery lovers – don’t miss it.

 

6. Psycho (1960)

pyscho poster The film Hitchcock is best known for – an ultimate psychotic story of a lonely man and his commanding mother.

Murder gets a new definition when you enter the insane world of Norman Bates – the frail looking guy who runs a roadside motel and  stuffs birds for a hobby.

If you haven’t seen this film yet – what can i say – go watch it man.

5. Rear Window (1954)

rear window posterVoyeurism at it’s best – a leg broken James Stewart plays the peeping tom watching his neighbors through his rear window.

An innocent habit which comes with it’s own side effects.

Pretty soon he watches something that he shouldn’t have and gets involved in a murder mystery which ends in a tense dramatic way that only Hitchcock can give justice to.

4. Vertigo (1958)

vertigo posterJames Stewart  joined by the mysterious Kim Novak gives (probably) his best performance in this mind boggling drama -according to me the most beautifully shot Hitchcock film ever.

Vertigo as the name suggests is the fear of heights and such a phobia can dangerously handicap a person from saving another’s life. Hmmm ….

A film with a perfect twist in the tail.

3. Rebecca (1940)

rebecca poster The only Hitchcock film that won an oscar – a true deserving master piece indeed.

The black and white elegance of the film comes out brilliantly through the awesome performances of Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson.

Splendid story telling and the haunting scores by Franz Waxman make it all the more a chilling experience.  

2. Notorious (1946)

notorious poster Suspense and tension levels shoot up as Carry Grant and Ingrid Bergman teams up in a dangerous spy game in this Hitchcock flick.

Heart racing tense sequences masterfully constructed with the sole intension to playfully torture the audience.

Many spy films are made but this one  deserves the recognition it gets. Something special.

1. Lifeboat (1944)

lifeboat posterOne of the most underrated Hitchcock films ever – the whole film is masterfully shot inside a lifeboat (probably the smallest location ever used).

Survivors from a ship wreck (torpedoed) clusters in a lifeboat and it is the story of their survival.

A unique tale of human behavior, conflicting characters and their relations in the time of crisis.

and (The ‘+1′ film is not necessarily the best but certainly the most crazy one. A must watch).

+1. Rope (1948)

Rope-poster Imagine the trill of a perfect murder!

The body is kept inside a table and food is kept on top of it – and served to the victims parents and fiance.

A party where the only missing person is dead. Entirely filmed in-studio this one is shot in total ten long takes!

Hitchcock’s first color film and of course a must watch.

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