Cast & Crew
In Victorian England, sisters Pamela and Flora Thistlewaite lead a cloistered life, watched over by their repressive father and prim governess. At their "coming out" ball, Flora meets and becomes engaged to Lieutenant Alan Craig Freeland, while independent Pamela catches the eye of roguish Gerald Waring. Spurned by her cold-hearted father, lonely Pamela is easily seduced by Gerald and becomes pregnant by him. After Pamela reveals her condition to Gerald, he tearfully informs her that he is married. Heartbroken, Pamela joins Flora, who is now married and also "expecting," in Italy, and there meets Thomas Lane, a British diplomat. When Flora learns that Alan has been killed in an accident, she collapses from shock, which causes first a miscarriage and then her own death. Later Pamela gives birth and returns to England with her baby Flora, whom she discreetly refers to as her niece. In London, Pamela defies the harsh rules of Victorian society by writing feminist and reform-minded editorials for a women's weekly. She soon becomes a successful journalist and founds her own feminist magazine. However, her fear of scandal prevents her from marrying the devoted Thomas, and Flora grows up unaware of her true parentage. When Flora tells her "aunt" that she is in love with Gerald Waring's son, however, Pamela demands that she end the relationship and then meets secretly with Gerald to discuss the problem. As a result of their clandestine meeting, Gerald's wife names Pamela as a co-respondent in a divorce case. Still protective of Flora and Thomas' reputations, Pamela refuses to reveal her past in court, and thereby ruins her own reputation. Finally, Thomas tells Flora the truth about her mother, and with her daughter's blessing, Pamela weds her beloved Thomas.
Bonnie June O'day
Pandro S. Berman
George D. Ellis
Robert De Grasse
B. B. Kahane
Maurice De Packh
Van Nest Polglase
A Woman Rebels
Right off the bat, A Woman Rebels (1936) establishes that it will concern itself with issues of feminine independence - specifically of a woman who will defy society and its conventional rules in order to take possession of her own life. In Victorian England, Katharine Hepburn and her sister (Elizabeth Allan) live with their stern father (Donald Crisp), who tries to make them believe that women are inferior to men and that they should therefore behave accordingly. "It's nonsense!" replies Hepburn, who is promptly sent to her room. As the years pass, Hepburn remains defiant, even after she becomes pregnant out of wedlock thanks to Van Heflin. Her also-pregnant, married sister is now living in Italy, and after Hepburn goes there for a visit, tragic plot complications enable her to return home with her own daughter who she is able to pass her off as her niece.
Now a single mother, Hepburn becomes a feminist newspaper publisher and writes articles about women in society. Through all the years, Hepburn also refuses to marry the man she loves, Herbert Marshall, because she knows that if the truth about her daughter ever surfaced, it could ruin his career. An even bigger reason, however, is that marrying him would prevent her from "accomplishing her feminist goals," as Jeanine Basinger has written in her book A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960 (Knopf, 1993).
Basinger makes a case for Hepburn's character as a hero who stands up against society: "She has been decisive, brave, and independent all through the film, including the moment when she had to face single pregnancy alone. She qualifies as a strong hero, taking life on her own terms and fighting for the things she believes in whether society agrees with her or not."
For whatever reason, audiences of the day were not interested in A Woman Rebels. The picture lost over $200,000 for RKO and was Hepburn's third flop in a row, following Sylvia Scarlett (1935) and Mary of Scotland (1936). Hepburn was now "box office poison" and would not shed that label for a few more years.
Making their screen debuts here are Van Heflin and Doris Dudley. Hepburn had seen them on Broadway in a play called End of Summer, thought they'd be perfect for this film, and successfully lobbied RKO to hire them. Heflin, of course, went on to a sterling movie career, but Dudley appeared in only three more pictures and is today forgotten.
A few years after A Woman Rebels, Heflin appeared in the cast of the Broadway stage version of The Philadelphia Story, playing the reporter to Hepburn's Tracy Lord. Hepburn controlled the film rights to that play but did not keep Heflin on board for the 1940 movie; instead she went with major star power in the form of James Stewart, who won an Oscar® in the role. Just two years later, however, Heflin would win his own Oscar®, for Johnny Eager (1942).
In fact, A Woman Rebels is full of future Oscar® winners and nominees:
Screenwriter Anthony Veiller, who along with Ernest Vajda adapted this film from Netta Syrett's novel Portrait of a Rebel, would later be nominated for writing Stage Door (1937) and The Killers (1946). Other credits for Veiller include State of the Union (1948) and The Night of the Iguana (1964), while Vajda is best known for his five masterful collaborations with Ernst Lubitsch, such as The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) and The Merry Widow (1934).
Lucile Watson, who plays Hepburn and Allan's ever-faithful servant, later scored an Oscar® nomination as Bette Davis' mother in Watch on the Rhine (1943). Donald Crisp, meanwhile, won for How Green Was My Valley (1941), and costume designer Walter Plunkett scored ten nominations throughout his career, winning for An American in Paris (1951). Plunkett's costumes in A Woman Rebels have been praised for their particular accuracy to the time periods depicted. Hepburn wears 22 different costumes covering a 25-year span in the late 19th century.
Finally, Katharine Hepburn herself had already won an Oscar® for Morning Glory (1933) and would go on to be nominated 12 times in all for Best Actress throughout her career, which is still the world record. She won the award four times.
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Mark Sandrich
Screenplay: Anthony Veiller, Ernest Vajda, Netta Syrett (novel)
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Film Editing: Jane Loring
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Pamela Thistlewaite), Herbert Marshall (Thomas Lane), Elizabeth Allan (Flora Anne Thistlewaite), Donald Crisp (Judge Thistlewaite), Doris Dudley (Young Flora), David Manners (Lieutenant Alan Freeland).
BW-88m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold
A Woman Rebels
The working title of this film was Portrait of a Rebel. Van Heflin made his screen acting debut in the production. According to Hollywood Reporter, RKO was slated to borrow Cora Witherspoon from M-G-M for a role, but that actress did not appear in the picture. A Hollywood Reporter news item announced Florence Lake as a cast member, but her participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Although not credited on the film, Clem Portman is listed in Hollywood Reporter production charts as the sound recorder. Modern sources list Portman as music recorder. One modern source claims that Katharine Hepburn agreed to make the picture as a tribute to her suffragette mother, while another states that producer Pandro Berman, who liked Netta Syrett's novel, had to convince Hepburn to take the part. According to modern sources, the film lost $222,000 at the box office. It was Hepburn's third consecutive flop. Modern sources add Marilyn French (Flora, as infant) to the cast, and credit Mel Berns with makeup, Nathaniel Shilkret as music director, Roy Webb, who is credited on the film as music director, with the picture's score, and Hermes Pan with choreographing the ballroom dances.
Released in United States 1936
Released in United States 1936