Alice Adams

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Katherine Hepburn has been hailed as the greatest actress of the 20th century. Hailed by many as not only beautiful, but talented and it was during her upswing that she made a little film called Alice Adams. Starring Fred MacMurray and directed by George Stevens (more likely better-known for his work on Giant, A Place in the Sun, Shane and Swing Time) this was adapted from the novel in that was published in 1922. When it comes to comparing movies like this to the movies of today, there really is no comparison. Not to say that all "old" movies were great, because they weren’t. And that’s not to say that all new movies are "bad", because they’re not; but when you deal with three legends (Hepburn, MacMurray and Stevens) it’s hard to deny that Alice Adams was, in fact, a great movie. Not only does the film deal with the age old story of love, but like so many others, it deals with love in between the classes. The socioeconomic status has long been an issue in films, dating back to the days of William Shakespeare and his work with Romeo & Juliet. Alice Adams handles this in a most unusual way…

As we first meet Alice (Katherine Hepburn), she is walking out of a nickel and dime store, having just bought a new makeup case. She walks past more expensive shops and finally heads into a flower shop for a corsage. She quickly learns (yet she already knew) that they’re way out of her price range, so she makes up excuses as to why she can’t buy them. Opting instead to pick her own violets from a garden, she is set to go to the big dance with her less than supportive brother (Frank Albertson) who quickly abandons her after one dance to go shoot dice with the crew in the smoking lounge. After being looked over by almost everyone at the party, Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray) asks her to dance and their relationship has started. It’s no secret that Alice is head over heels with Arthur, however she won’t let her guard down as she feels ashamed and embarrassed to tell Arthur the truth, even though it’s evident that he likes her no matter what her financial situation is. Alice constantly makes excuses for her father (Fred Stone), who is home ill and getting a paycheck from his company that he’s worked for. Alice and her mother (Ann Shoemaker) convince him to take a recipe for glue and quit his job and open up his own business. They see the potential for more money and a brighter future instead of him working in the same old job that’s leading nowhere.

As the romance between Arthur and Alice starts to heat up, we know that something will eventually come to a head. Alice has planned a dinner for Arthur, and they even hired a maid (Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel credited as Hattie McDaniels) for the occasion. It seems, though, that some ill talk of Mr. Adams has been told to Arthur. Alice, sensing this tries to avoid the issue, but we know something eventually must give. This George Stevens movie is yet another feather in his hat. I originally resisted watching it, even as much as I’ve "discovered" older movie as of late, but this is very relatable even today and though the film is nearing it’s 70th anniversary, the themes still ring true. Katherine Hepburn was nominated for her second Oscar here (she didn’t win) and the rest of the supporting cast does a fine job as well. Ironically enough, Hepburn plays almost the exact opposite of her character a few years later in Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, a movie that was initially not well-received, but has now become one of the most popular movies of all time. Ironic.

Video: How does it look?

As mentioned above, this film is nearing it’s 70th anniversary and for a film of this age, the transfer is actually pretty good. Naturally, many artifacts adorn some of the frames and I think I saw a couple of frames missing during the running time, but the clarity is there and it looks very good. Some of the scenes appear to have a sharpness to them that I wouldn’t have thought possible. Other scenes do have a sort of "softness" to them, but I feel that was the style at the time. Having never seen the movie before, I really have no basis for comparison, but there really isn’t that much wrong with the transfer here. Kudos to Warner for once again delivering the goods on one of their classics!

Audio: How does it sound?

Obviously, the track here is mono and for the most part, it sounds pretty good. There is somewhat of a limited range and for that, I can’t give a very high score, but considering the age of the film, I’d say that I was more than satisfied. Some of the more ambient effects do sound a bit dry and dated, but again – that was expected. Dialogue sounds very natural and for what little "surround" effects there were, which were actually just noises on the set, they sound good too. Don’t expect a lot, as you won’t get a lot but it’s still a decent soundtrack.

Supplements: What are the extras?

While not loaded with extras, there are a few to mention. There are some very brief cast and crew bios (though none are selectable), and some text-based notes on Katherine Hepburn’s years while working with RKO pictures. The lone video supplement is taken from a documentary on George Stevens that has interviews with the producer and Katherine Hepburn. These look rather dated (I’d say about 20 years old), but it’s a nice touch and gives us a bit more insight into the movie. All in all, I was rather surprised by Alice Adams, for fans of the genre, I recommend this.

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