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This on-again, off-again love story between a promising composer (Katharine Hepburn) and a moody symphonic conductor (French actor Charles Boyer) had a rocky production history. Hepburn was set to play against John Barrymore, but he was replaced with Francis Lederer, who was then swiftly replaced with Boyer. The male lead's casting is right -- Boyer, in his bedroom-eyes prime, is a paragon of tormented savoir faire, and it's easy to see what makes the women around him swoon --but the story was not a good vehicle for Hepburn's strengths, requiring her to be worshipful and timid in the presence of a "great man". She's atypically submissive as she weathers one indignity after another in the name of love, and the unconditional surrender doesn't flatter her. (Hepburn felt the same way, remembering this picture in one of her biographies as "a very dull movie" she was eager to get over with, so as to focus her attention on Alice Adams (1935) a project that excited her more.) Dismissed by critics and ignored at the box office, Break of Hearts is nevertheless a great opportunity to see Hepburn playing radically against type with competence, sensitivity, and sincerity.
By Violet LeVoit