Critics' Picks: New Dvds

Films reveal Hepburn in all her contradictions

May 27, 2007|By Mary Carole McCauley


Every time I watch a movie starring the wondrous Katharine Hepburn, I'm reminded of all the ways in which she was a feminist symbol, and all the ways in which she failed to be.

Ample evidence for both sides of the argument runs through The Katharine Hepburn 100th Anniversary Collection, which is being released Tuesday.

The six-disc box set is a compendium of early films, cult classics and prestige items, and includes The Corn is Green, Morning Glory, Dragon Seed, Sylvia Scarlett, Undercurrent and Without Love. (OK, so not every film is a neglected gem; in Dragon Seed, based on a novel by Pearl S. Buck, the oh-so-WASPY Kate portrays a Chinese peasant woman.)

Hepburn's independence, her unconventionality, her athleticism, the way she took control of her career, even her predilection for wearing slacks -- all proclaimed that the star had broken free of the fetters that bound American women in the mid-20th century.

Sylvia Scarlett, for heaven's sake, is a trouser role, and it is a beautiful thing to watch this gorgeous, lithe young woman vault unconcernedly over a fence, dangle upside down from a pair of exercise rings, or (in Undercurrent) ride a horse.

But all of these films -- and Hepburn's own autobiography -- convey the message that a woman's true glory is in subordinating her desires to those of her man.

It's hard not to feel a little sick, in Morning Glory, when the young actress whom Hepburn plays lays her head in the lap of a much older, slightly seedy Adolphe Menjou -- and maintains her steadfast devotion when Menjou's character, a theatrical producer, turns out to be a cad. It's even more difficult not to be a bit dismayed upon realizing that it is this role that brought Hepburn her first Oscar.

And it's a reminder to us all that we can be caught in the very traps we most energetically disavow.

Special features

Extras include vintage shorts, classic cartoons and film trailers.


THE CLOSER -- COMPLETE SECOND SEASON --Warner Home Video / $27.99

This terrific hit television show on TNT finally gives a woman's intuition its due. The four-disc set, featuring episodes from the 2005 season, is scheduled to be released Tuesday. Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson (portrayed by Kyra Sedgwick) mixes Southern charm, personal eccentricity and an unerring ability to detect when suspects and witnesses are lying. Hence her nickname, based on her ability to "close" cases and solve crimes in the interrogation room. Special features include a gag reel, and a featurette on the development of the show.

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