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Maxwell Anderson's Mary of Scotland, starring Helen Hayes as Mary Stuart and Fredric March as the Earl of Bothwell, had been the most prestigious success of the 1933-34 Broadway season. From the moment Katharine Hepburn saw the play she was convinced that Mary would make a fine screen role for her, and so was born the film version of Mary of Scotland (1936). March repeats his role as the Earl of Bothwell opposite Hepburn. The dramatic story relates how Mary, by assuming her throne as Queen of Scotland, strikes terror into the heart of Queen Elizabeth I (played in the film by Florence Eldridge, March's wife). After languishing in jail for 18 years at Elizabeth's command, Mary is offered a pardon if she will sign away her throne. Refusing, she is executed.
Hepburn, then RKO's leading dramatic star, wanted her friend George Cukor to direct her in the film, but producer Pandro S. Berman, disillusioned by the star-director team after their box-office failure with Sylvia Scarlett (1935), assigned John Ford instead. According to Hepburn biographer Anne Edwards, Hepburn initially "fought, bickered and fussed" with Ford but soon warmed to his salty personality and eventually "fell hard" for him. Edwards writes that on weekends the two "met at Kate?s house and then stole away with elaborate precaution to spend time on Ford's yacht, the Araner." But Ford was already married and, with Hepburn's family voicing disapproval, the romance fizzled once the movie was finished.
Hepburn, who often insisted on doing her own stunts, refused a double for a demanding bit of action in Mary of Scotland that required her run down a flight of stone steps and leap onto the back of a spirited horse, then ride away at breakneck speed. The stunt was complicated by her costume, which included high heels and a voluminous gown weighing 15 pounds. Ford had objected, but Hepburn overrode him, insisting, "Mary of Scotland did it, and I'm a damned good horsewoman." Perhaps to teach his star a lesson, Ford insisted on 11 takes before he was satisfied with the shot. As the unfazed Hepburn strode back to her dressing room, the entire film crew stood and applauded.
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: John Ford
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols, from play by Maxwell Anderson
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Van Nest Polglase
Cinematography: Joseph H. August
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett
Editing: Jane Loring
Original Music: Nathaniel Shilkret, Max Steiner
Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Mary Stuart), Fredric March (Earl of Bothwell), Florence Eldridge (Elizabeth Tudor), Douglas Walton (Darnley), John Carradine (David Rizzio),
BW-124m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe