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Alice Adams

Alice Adams(1935)

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teaser Alice Adams (1935)

SYNOPSIS

Alice Adams is a pretty small-town girl from a lower class family who aspires to be accepted into the snobby elite social circle that has always eluded her. While Alice's family struggles to get by, the resourceful Alice puts on lofty airs and goes to great lengths to project a false image of wealth and status. Her pitiful attempts at social climbing get her nowhere as her upper class peers mostly ignore her. However, one night at a society dance, Alice is paid special attention by the rich and handsome Arthur Russell, who is unaware of her pretensions. While her family teeters on the brink of disaster, Alice works desperately to maintain Arthur's interest and keep up her elaborate fantasy. Soon, however, the time comes for Arthur to meet Alice's family, and the illusion might very well be shattered.

Director: George Stevens
Writers: Dorothy Yost, Mortimer Offner
Based on the Book By: Booth Tarkington
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Editing: Jane Loring
Music Composer: Max Steiner
Costume Designer: Walter Plunkett
Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Alice Adams), Fred MacMurray (Arthur Russell), Fred Stone (Mr. Adams), Evelyn Venable (Mildred Palmer), Frank Albertson (Walter Adams), Ann Shoemaker (Mrs. Adams), Charley Grapewin (Mr. Lamb), Grady Sutton (Frank Dowling), Hedda Hopper (Mrs. Palmer), Jonathan Hale (Mr. Palmer), Janet McLeod (Henrietta Lamb), Virginia Howell (Mrs. Dowling), Zeffie Tilbury (Mrs. Dresser), Ella McKenzie (Ella Dowling), Hattie McDaniel (Malena).
BW-100m. Closed Captioning.

Why ALICE ADAMS is Essential

The character of Alice Adams is one of Katharine Hepburn's finest and most defining roles. The depth and pathos that Hepburn brings to the role of the social climbing Alice helped create one of the most memorable and nuanced performances in classic Hollywood cinema.

Alice Adams was a film responsible for reviving Katharine Hepburn's career at a crucial point in her life. Having recently won her first Academy Award as Best Actress for her performance in Morning Glory (1933), Hepburn had followed the success with a string of less than stellar box office flops such as Spitfire (1934) and The Little Minister (1934). Alice Adams, on the strength of Booth Tarkington's original story and Hepburn's performance, was a big hit and has endured as a Hollywood classic. Hepburn received her second Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for her performance.

Alice Adams was the film that gave Oscar®-winning director George Stevens his big break. Stevens had begun his career in Hollywood as a cameraman, eventually moving up to directing comedy two-reelers. When Hepburn and producer Pandro S. Berman tapped him to direct Alice Adams, it was his first major feature and a turning point for his distinguished future in Hollywood.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Alice Adams (1935)

An earlier silent version was filmed of Alice Adams in 1923 starring Florence Vidor in the title role.

In 1938 the Lux Radio Theater broadcast a shortened 60 minute version of Alice Adams in which Fred MacMurray reprised his role as Arthur, opposite actress Claudette Colbert as Alice.

The novels and stories of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) have served as the basis and source of many Hollywood films over the years. Among the more famous adaptations are The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), directed by Orson Welles, Presenting Lily Mars (1943) starring Judy Garland, On Moonlight Bay (1951) and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) - two musicals based on the "Penrod" stories and featuring Doris Day - and The Bad Sister (1931), based on Tarkington's novel The Flirt and starring Bette Davis.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Alice Adams (1935)

The success of Alice Adams gave Hepburn's career a much needed boost, putting her back on top at the box office, and the film went on to be a classic. For George Stevens the film generated a long and distinguished career as a director. He and Hepburn worked together twice more in 1937's Quality Street and 1942's Woman of the Year.

Actor Randolph Scott was considered for the role of Arthur Russell.

Although actress Bette Davis beat Katharine Hepburn in the Academy Awards race for Best Actress for her performance in Dangerous (1935), Davis often said that Hepburn was the one who deserved to win for Alice Adams.

Hattie McDaniel, the actress who plays the part of the Adamses' impertinent hired maid, went on to become the first African-American actor to ever win an Academy Award with her portrayal of Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939) just a few years later.

Memorable Quotes from ALICE ADAMS

"Mother, don't you think you and I are both a little selfish trying to make poor old dad go out and get something better? After all, we've got enough, really."
"Enough?! I suppose you've got a limousine to take you to the dance tonight. I suppose you only gotta call the florist and order up some orchids."
-- Alice Adams (Katharine Hepburn) and her mother (Ann Shoemaker)

"Ma, I told you over a week ago, I'm not going to that old dance."
"But Walter--"
"Don't 'But Walter' me. I'm no society snake. I'm as liable to go to that Palmer dance as I am to eat a few barrels of broken glass."
--Alice's brother Walter (Frank Albertson) and Mrs. Adams.

"She's not run after the way the other girls are because she's poor and hasn't any background." -- Mrs. Adams, to her husband Virgil (Fred Stone), speaking about Alice.

"What a bunch. As soon as I get rid of you, I'm going back to that little room where I left my hat and coat and smoke myself to death." -- Walter, to Alice at Mildred Palmer's party.

"Well, it certainly is unfortunate that I am so different from Mildred."
"Why unfortunate?"
"Goodness! Why, because she's perfect. She's perfectly perfect. Yes, we all fairly adore her. You know, she's like some big, noble gold statue way up above the rest of us. She hardly ever does anything mean or treacherous. You know, of all the girls I know, I think she plays the fewest really mean tricks."
--Alice and her suitor, Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray).

"You know, the other day when you walked home with me, I got to wondering what I wanted you to think of me in case I should ever happen to see you again."
"And what did you decide?"
"I decided I should probably never dare to be just myself with you. Not if I cared to have you want to see me again. And yet here I am, just being myself after all."
-- Alice, to Arthur

"J.A. Lamb don't forget things. If he owed you money, he'd cut off his hand to pay you. But if he thought you were trying to get the best of him, he'd cut off both hands to keep you from doing it."--Alice's father, Virgil Adams, to his wife.

"You know, I have the strangest feeling. I feel as if I were only going to see you about five minutes more all the rest of my life." -- Alice, to Arthur.

"I heard a great deal at Mildred's this afternoon, too."
"So they did talk about me."
"Yes, they talked about you a lot. And I found out one thing. I love you, Alice."
"Gee whiz!"

--Arthur/Alice

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Alice Adams (1935)

Alice Adams was based on the 1921 novel of the same name by Booth Tarkington. The closely observed study of a social climbing young woman in small town America was a hit with readers and critics and was subsequently awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1922.

In 1935 actress Katharine Hepburn, then in her late 20s, was an important star in Hollywood. Working under contract for RKO Studios, Hepburn had made several hit films there, including Morning Glory (1933), for which she won her first Academy Award as Best Actress. However, after suffering a few missteps at the box office with flops such as Spitfire (1934), The Little Minister (1934) and Break of Hearts (1935), Hepburn's status as a top actress was in danger. Both she and RKO were eager for her to regain her footing.

Hepburn greatly admired Booth Tarkington's novel and thought that it would make an excellent modern production with her in the lead role as Alice. Excited at the prospect of playing such a complex and challenging part, she and RKO producer Pandro S. Berman began putting the new project together.

The most important order of business for Hepburn and Berman was to choose the right director to bring Alice Adams to life. Since Hepburn had considerable clout at the studio, she had a say in who RKO chose to put behind the camera. It was important to her that the director be interested specifically in the book--its rich story and characters--rather than just working with her--a big movie star--to make a name for himself.

In the beginning, there was talk of hiring William Wyler, a young up-and-comer, to direct. However, Pandro Berman tried to interest Hepburn in another young director, George Stevens, who had begun his career in Hollywood as a skilled cameraman; he had worked his way up directing comedy two-reelers. This background in comedy piqued Hepburn's interest. "I felt that Alice Adams could benefit by being directed by someone with a good sense of humor," said Hepburn in her 1991 autobiography Me. "Otherwise, it might be a bit of heavy sledding."

When Hepburn and Berman first sat down with Stevens to discuss Alice Adams, Hepburn, who described Stevens as "an odd duck," was concerned that he didn't have much to say while she and Berman chattered away at length about their ideas. In fact, Stevens was downright taciturn. Still, there was something intelligent and promising about the young director and he was hired for the job. Later Hepburn found out that Stevens' silence during that meeting was because he didn't want to admit at the time that he hadn't yet read the book--something he got around to later. Alice Adams would be Stevens' first major feature film directing assignment and a chance to prove himself in Hollywood.

With the approval of leading lady Katharine Hepburn, RKO borrowed actor Fred MacMurray from Paramount to play Alice's wealthy suitor Arthur Russell. MacMurray had just come off of a well-received part in The Gilded Lily (1935) opposite Claudette Colbert when he was tapped for the part.

The rest of the Alice Adams cast was filled out with fine supporting actors including Fred Stone and Ann Shoemaker as Alice's bickering parents, Frank Albertson as Alice's brother, Hattie McDaniel as a hilariously impertinent maid-for-hire, and future Hollywood gossip queen Hedda Hopper in a small role as a society matron.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Alice Adams (1935)

When Alice Adams began shooting in the spring of 1935, the screenplay adaptation of Booth Tarkington's novel was still a work in progress. When the first draft by writer Jane Murfin was rejected, producer Pandro S. Berman brought in Mortimer Offner and Dorothy Yost to do an extensive rewrite. As a result, there were times during the production when new script pages were brought in on a daily last minute basis, keeping everyone on their toes.

Katharine Hepburn was happy to be surrounded by such a talented group of people both in front of and behind the camera for support. Still, Alice Adams belonged to Hepburn, and she was determined to make it as good as it could possibly be.

With much at stake, it was no surprise that Hepburn and director George Stevens often clashed over how she should play certain scenes. Hepburn's co-star Fred MacMurray once recalled, "I remember a scene on a porch; Kate was in a porch swing and I was sitting in a chair. Her concept of the scene was entirely different from George's," he said. "[Stevens] was quietly definite, and she was less quietly definite. Finally, he said, 'Let's shoot it.' We did it over and over, most of the morning, and we broke for lunch. We did it over. He said, 'It's not the way I want it.' After eighty takes, all day, at last she did it the way he wanted it."

When they weren't butting heads over creative differences, Hepburn found that she liked George Stevens and began to trust his guidance. In her autobiography Me she acknowledged that he was a "brilliant" director and recalled how he helped her during an emotional scene in which Alice returns home from Mildred's society party at the beginning of the film. When she was having trouble crying, Stevens took her aside and deliberately shocked her by lashing out verbally. It was a calculated move designed to get the proper level of emotion out of her, and it worked. It was also Stevens' idea in the scene for Alice to enter her room slowly, gaze out the window and then dissolve into tears, creating one of the film's most poignant and memorable moments. It was an idea she called "excellent."

While the film version of Alice Adams followed Booth Tarkington's story relatively closely, there was one major change that the studio made: the ending. The novel's finale had Alice losing her suitor, getting a job and finally facing the grim reality that she would never be a part of high society. However, with Americans still in the sobering grip of The Great Depression, RKO felt that audiences would not want such a downbeat ending. As a result, the studio ordered a new "Hollywood Ending" in which Alice gets her man and presumably lives happily ever after.

The new implausible ending was something that critics made note of when the film opened in the late summer of 1935, but that didn't stop them from lavishing praise upon the beautifully realized production and Hepburn's remarkable performance.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Alice Adams (1935)

Alice Adams (Katharine Hepburn) is a small town girl of humble origins dreaming of a better life in George Stevens' captivating 1935 social drama, Alice Adams. With a father on medical leave from his lowly clerk job, Alice has few of the material advantages of the wealthier, socially connected girls in South Renford, Indiana. Alice's father is content with his job at local tycoon J.A. Lamb's firm, but her mother (Ann Shoemaker) is not and is continually criticizing Mr. Adams (Fred Stone) for his lack of ambition.

In a painful depiction of Alice's social exclusion, she attends a fancy gathering at wealthy friend Mildred Palmer's (Evelyn Venable) mansion with her protesting brother Walter (Frank Albertson) reluctantly acting as her date. At the party, Alice is repeatedly shunned by the girls, who smile limply at her or make cutting remarks about her dress, and by the boys who will not deign to ask her for a dance. Perpetually optimistic, but clearly hurt by the treatment, Alice sits in her out-of-date dress and wilted violets stolen from the town park's flower bed, waiting for some acknowledgment from her peers. Hepburn makes Alice's efforts to fit in with the richer crowd genuinely painful to watch as she is snubbed by not only her peers, but their parents.

When the kind, charming, new man in town Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray) picks up her discarded nosegay of violets, Alice has her first taste of genuine romance. After the couple dance at the ball, Alice falls hard for the rich, attentive Russell. A chance meeting in town leads to a flirtation and the promise of more romance despite Russell's engagement to Mildred Palmer.

Prodded by her mother, Alice makes the disastrous decision of inviting Russell to dinner on the hottest night of the summer where the family pretends to be wealthy but their crude manners, a gum-chewing rented maid (Hattie McDaniel) and every conceivable disaster threaten to ruin the evening.

Though McDaniel's role as the ornery maid is a typically racist Hollywood vision of a work-shirking, rude "domestic," the actress once answered her critics, who asked why she played such roles, "Why should I complain about making seven thousand dollars a week playing a maid? If I didn't, I'd be making seven dollars a week actually being one!"

The ending of Booth Tarkington's 1921 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was hopelessly gloomy, with Russell deserting Alice soon after witnessing her uncouth family and hearing of her brother's having stolen from his employer. King Vidor's 1923 version of the film retained that downbeat ending. But in the midst of the Depression, Hollywood was not likely to make such a mistake, and, as Tarkington himself suspected from prior experiences with the movie industry, Alice Adams ended on a fairy tale note.

The film was a huge success with audiences. It garnered Hepburn her second Oscar nomination (after 1933's Morning Glory), though she lost to Bette Davis in Dangerous. The New York World-Telegram said of the star "Miss Hepburn gives a performance that is superb - a performance that captures all the loneliness and heartache of the character." The New York Times said "Alice is as striking and sensitive a performance as any she has given."

Alice Adams was also the first major film for 30-year-old director Stevens, who took what might have been an ordinary melodrama about a girl from the wrong side of the tracks yearning for acceptance, and made it into riveting, compelling social commentary. Stevens expertly conveys the cruelty and claustrophobia of small-town American life, where some families made fortunes and others, like the Adams, merely eked out a living.

In her autobiography Me: Stories of My Life (Random House), Hepburn recalled working with Stevens: "He had done a number of Wheeler and Woolsey comedies and I felt that Alice Adams could benefit by being directed by someone with a good sense of humor. Otherwise it might be a bit heavy sledding.....We talked. I had the feeling that he was fascinated by the book. I had somehow decided that the well-known directors who were interested in the job were mainly fascinated in working with me rather than being fascinated by the subject matter." But Hepburn soon discovered the reverse was true. "George told me later that at the time he had not read the book and that his great dream had been to work with me. Actually, he was so busy finishing the movie he was shooting that he wasn't able to read ours until after the first meeting with Pandro [Berman, a producer] and me." Despite his lack of preparation for their first meeting, Hepburn found Stevens "a really brilliant director" but they did have a major fight over one scene; it was when Alice retreats to her room in tears and watches the rain outside her window. Hepburn got so cold filming the sequence she had trouble generating real tears. When she bitterly complained, Stevens was barely able to contain his rage. In the end, though, Hepburn delivered exactly what he wanted. Weeks later, she recalled, "He told me that he had damn near walked off the picture" over that scene. Despite that altercation, Hepburn said, "George and I remained good friends. I did only two other pictures with Stevens: Quality Street [1937], no good, and Woman of the Year [1942], my first with Spencer Tracy - big hit. I learned a lot from him."

Director: George Stevens
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay: Dorothy Yost and Mortimer Offner based on the novel by Booth Tarkington
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Production Design: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Alice Adams), Fred MacMurray (Arthur Russell), Fred Stone (Mr. Adams), Evelyn Venable (Mildred Palmer), Frank Albertson (Walter Adams), Ann Shoemaker (Mrs. Adams), Charley Grapewin (Mr. Lamb), Grady Sutton (Frank Dowling).
BW-100m. Closed captioning.

by Felicia Feaster

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teaser Alice Adams (1935)

AWARDS AND HONORS

Alice Adams was nominated for 2 Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn).

THE CRITIC'S CORNER - ALICE ADAMS

"Hollywood bestows a garland on the languishing Summer cinema in the splendid screen version of Alice Adams...An oddly exciting blend of tenderness, comedy and realistic despair, it touches life intimately at many points during its account of a lonely girl in a typical American small town. Alice Adams, in addition to its success as a tragi-comedy, accomplishes several minor triumphs. By giving a performance which will rank with her finest work on the screen, Katharine Hepburn resumes her high place after faltering in several bad pictures. In his first talking film, Fred Stone portrays Alice's bewildered and futile father with a mixture of compassion and humor that would do credit to the great W.C. Fields. The film is a triumph, too, for its director, George Stevens, whose past work in the cinema has been unimportant enough to make his present success all the more astonishing." -- The New York Times

"That George Stevens' direction captures the wistfulness of Katharine Hepburn's superb histrionism, and yet has not sacrificed audience values at the altar of too much drabness and prosaic realism, is an achievement of no small order. The star's own performance is uncompromising and unvacillating. If she's a silly little ninny in her pretenses and simple pretexts, she is permitted to run almost berserk on the petty inanities of small-town aspirations." -- Variety

"From the beginning it was obvious that Miss Hepburn had conceived the part as a whole; that she was going to allow Alice to tell her story in her own way, and that she was not going to encompass poor Alice in a theatrical design of her own making. The result is that Miss Hepburn shows that there is a good deal more in Alice than mere vanity and man-hunting. Because of her insight into the part and the pathos she gives, it might appear to the superficial that Miss Hepburn has exaggerated the posings; what she really has done is to over-act as Alice over-acted every time she met a man or walked into a room." -- The London Times

"In the title role Miss Hepburn gives a performance that is superb--a performance that captures all the loneliness and heartache of the character. Fred Stone, playing the part of the father, does a fine job--a job that easily might have become much too homespun and likable. In his hands it does not." -- The New York World-Telegraph

"For the purpose of exhibiting an actress in a variety of moods and situations Alice Adams could scarcely be surpassed--and Miss Hepburn has obviously taken possession of her task with sympathy and enthusiasm. Had the temptation to make the film a starring vehicle for Miss Hepburn been a little more strenuously resisted, Alice Adams could have achieved considerably more than its niche as merely a better-than-average romance." -- The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

"What was in 1922 a shrewd and observant novel, emerges in 1935 as a bitingly satiric portrait of an era. Of Hollywood's leading stars, Katharine Hepburn is possibly the least versatile. It is precisely this limitation which made her the ideal choice for the role of Alice. The woebegone grimaces, the expressions, half childish and half addle-headed, which she used to convey youth's nameless longings and which are often so startlingly misplaced in her portrayals of women of the world, are those which make her portrayal of a girl whom she really understands her masterpiece to date. The supremely difficult feat of characterizing a poseuse so as to mock the poses without mocking the person behind them she carries off with success. The direction of George Stevens, who at 30 is the youngest important director in Hollywood, is almost flawless." -- Time magazine

"[Hepburn] has never looked more stunning nor played with such distinction, authority and charm. It is a performance that is superb in every detail, well sustained, carefully modulated and accurately pitched to the keys of humor and wistful pathos which define the character." -- The New York Post

"Excellent small-town Americana with social-climbing girl finally finding love in person of unpretentious MacMurray. Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel becomes fine film, if not altogether credible. The dinner-table scene is unforgettable." -- Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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