Best Movies by Farr
RSS FeedaslRSS Feed

Late Kate

August 17, 2010

by John Farr

This week, Reel 13 airs the Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn classic, Bringing Up Baby. To mark the occasion, John Farr suggests a trio of late, great Katharine Hepburn pictures.

Adam’s Rib (1949)

Click to purchase


Adam and Amanda Bonner (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn), an otherwise happily married pair of lawyers, find their relationship sorely tested when they end up opposing each other in court in an attempted murder case involving another husband (Tom Ewell) and wife (Judy Holliday, in her debut).


George Cukor’s “Rib” may just be the ultimate battle of the sexes comedy, waged both in and out of the courtroom. Perhaps Tracy and Hepburn’s best overall film, their on-screen chemistry was never more effective than here. The script by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon is razor sharp and supporting performances from newcomers Ewell, Holliday and David Wayne are uniformly inspired. Judy’s turn as a wronged wife put her career in overdrive.

The African Queen (1951)

Click to purchase


Coarse-tongued, boozy steamer captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), a supplier of trade goods to East African villages during WWI, offers to take prim, imperious Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) back to civilization after her husband, a British missionary, dies during a German attack. Charlie and Rose have an oil-and-water rapport, but over the ensuing days, as they face a gauntlet of perils on the arduous journey home, their mutual hostility softens and then turns much sweeter.


Scripted by James Agee, Huston’s hugely entertaining “African Queen” pairs a grizzled Bogart with the lovably straitlaced and ever-haughty Hepburn for a bumpy ride down a treacherous river, where a German gunboat is lurking, along with leeches, rapids, and (surprise!) romance. According to Hepburn’s memoir (and several books), it was a hell of a shoot for everyone concerned, but DP John Cardiff managed to render the humid environs of East Africa in majestic, eye-popping Technicolor. Sterling performances by Hepburn and Bogart (who nabbed the Oscar for his turn as the cantankerous river rat) are the best reason to revisit “African Queen,” though. Opposites attract!

Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962)

Click to purchase


Set during one long summer day in 1912, this film focuses on the Tyrones, a family that has seen better days. James (Ralph Richardson),once a fine Shakespearean actor, has emptily played the same offstage role for years, while eldest son Jamie (Jason Robards), a failure on the boards, drowns his sorrows in alcohol. Budding writer Edmund (Dean Stockwell) is recovering from TB, and mother Mary (Katharine Hepburn), recently released from an institution, is slowly losing her grip on reality to the ravages of drug-addiction. As the day wears on, resentments surface-and ultimately consume-this tragic clan.


Sidney Lumet’s slow-burning adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical play depicts a theatrical family’s slow disintegration with haunting precision. Ralph Richardson is ideally cast as the fading family patriarch, while both Robards and Stockwell (O’Neill’s proxy) are superb as the two sons, each consumed by their own afflictions. Hepburn executes a tour-de-force as the fragile, brain-addled Mary Tyrone, a spectral symbol of the family’s decay from within. Lumet wisely sticks to the letter of the play, and the results are unforgettable.

Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • View Comments
  • Jerry

    “The Rainmaker” with Burt Lancaster. Burt doing what he has always done best, and Kate, in her late incarnation as the all but withered spinster. There as in “Summertime” with Roasano Brazzi which had the additional advantage of gorgeous Venice as backdrop, is the late Hepburn personna preparing itself for “The African Queen.” For me, these three are the definitive late Kates.

  • Carole

    Someone, it may have been Dorothy Parker, said our Kate had an acting range from A to B. Nonetheless, I think I have seen and loved all of her movies and particularly thought she was a fine comedic actress. My favorite of all is “The Africa Queen”. I think I’ve seen it 20 times!

  • Kay Spiessl

    I believe that the British Missionary in the African Queen was Kate’s brother, not her husband.
    Love your reviews and I’m a great Kate fan – she just had a magical stage/cinema presence that enchanted us all. What a legacy – can’t wait to see bringing up Baby again – a favorite!

  • john farr

    hi kay you’re right- it was her brother and we have fixed the error. thanks!

  • rayban

    Believe it or not, she was a terrific Amanda Wingfield in the TV version of “The Glass Menagerie”. But she did also have terrific support from Sam Waterston, Joanna Miles and Michael Moriarty.